Close this search box.

Apostolic Movement

Father Joseph Kentenich: 75 years of his arrival in Uruguay

Sister Clara María Bercetche

The world’ s First Daughter Shrine prepares to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the arrival of Schoenstatt’s Founder. Upon his release from the Dachau concentration camp, Father Kentenich begins his international trips. It is a period of fast-paced activities in which, as a prophet, he announces the message that has been entrusted to him, listening to and accompanying his children as a father, and giving himself without reserve to those whom God places in his path as a shepherd.

To the ends of the earth!

Schoenstatt reached the ends of the earth through missionary Sisters of Mary who, leaving their homeland, ventured into unknown lands without experience, without speaking the languages, and with limited financial support. Since they left the Original Shrine for South Africa and America, ten, twelve, maybe thirteen years had passed, and so much had happened during that time!

After visiting Brazil, Father Kentenich arrived in Uruguay, a small country that had the privilege of having his presence for approximately 190 days, between the years 1947 and 1952.

Stories of his arrival

Sunday, May 4: the long-awaited telegram arrived from Brazil: “Father arrives in Montevideo on the 9th Panair Airlines at 2:00 p.m.”. After five days of extensive preparations, the long-awaited traveler arrives with a delay.

Sister M. Bergit doubted if Father Kentenich still remembered her after ten years. Upon his arrival, late at night, after several sisters greeted him in German, she greeted him in fluent Spanish: “Good evening, Father. -Bergit, how are you!”, Father Kentenich answered immediately. Neither the distance, nor the time spent in jail and in the concentration camp, or the exhaustion from the trip and the intense work done in Brazil, could erase the names of those who had been entrusted to him

Padre Kentenich con niños


A father who offered his life for his children.

The joy of the reunion is indescribable. In the school hall, there is one greeting after another and at the end, he expresses what this moment means to him:

“Every father rejoices in being able to see his children again, especially when he has offered his life for them and has feared every second that his offering would be accepted.”

Now the parish priest and some school children who had left because of the delay return and Father Kentenich continues, regretting that he is not fluent in Spanish:

“There is a language that we are all familiar with: it is the language of love, of love for our Mother and Queen Thrice Admirable of Schoenstatt. That love unites us all tonight and No one should surpass us in that love.  Perhaps you think that I did not have to go through what others went through in Dachau. That is not the case. But, it is as if I had always been here among you, and not in Dachau’s hell. This must be a mystery. The Mother and Queen Thrice Admirable has performed the miracle so that I remained healthy and can be here with you.”

Encounter with the First Daughter Shrine

All are now on their way to the Shrine. At a certain distance, he stops and observes it. It is indeed very similar to the little chapel in the Schoenstatt Valley!

While he was in Dachau, he had learned about this initiative in October 1944, and had written the memorable words that reached the Sisters in Uruguay many months later:

“The news came to my solitude that a new Shrine has been blessed. May the Mother of God bless all those who meet her in this Shrine, may she transform them into new men and women and warmly shelter them in her heart. May she make fervent apostles. That without Falter carrying out the wishes of God

What are the characteristics of this Father Kentenich person who arrives in Latin America?

A Third point of contact

The time in the concentration camp has marked him deeply. He has become aware that he – together with the Schoenstatt MTA and her Shrine – is an element of objective importance; that, as a point of contact, he is the way, the bridge to God the Father, and the unifying element for the Schoenstatt Work. As chancellor of the Blessed Mother, he comes to announce the mission that she has entrusted to him, “to pull her chariot of triumph”.

Schoenstatt throughout the world

The Founder also wishes to strengthen international Schoenstatt. It was precisely the first Daughter Shrine in Dachau in 1943 that helped him to open the doors to all nations. When the Polish, French and Czech priests were reluctant to join a Movement whose source of grace, the Shrine, was in enemy territory, they were reassured to learn that Schoenstatt was not exclusively German, that it was all over the world.


Padre Kentenich frente al Santuario

Current of homecoming

Father Kentenich encouraged the construction of Daughter Shrines. He repeatedly affirmed: “Without the shrine, I can do nothing.”

The network of daughter shrines that emerged from the Shrine of New Helvetia allows the Covenant of Love to be incarnated in people and communities of different backgrounds, cultures and races and to be enriched with their original contributions. The current of graces from the Original Shrine is assumed in each place with its particular hues and accents. In this way, there is a continuous ebb and flow of graces between the source of origin and the different centers scattered throughout the world.

Blessing for the Church

Father Kentenich arrives in Latin America after having met in a private audience with His Holiness Pius XII. They talked about the last apostolic constitution Provida Mater Ecclesiae and the Founder of Schoenstatt promised that this Work created by God will see to it that the Secular Institutes become a blessing for the Church.

Prophet who speaks

In a research work by Father Esteban Uriburu on Father Kentenich’s time in Latin America, he estimates – in a fairly low estimate – one thousand three hundred conferences during the approximately 32 months he spent in the southern hemisphere between the years 1947 and 1952. This is without counting the letters of October 1948 and 1949, the numerous reports, the Letter to Joseph, the Perlonga Epistle, and the countless personal letters in response to the correspondence that piled up every night on his desk.

A father who listens

In August 1947, Father Kentenich has a very busy schedule. He has traveled from city to city attending to all kinds of people, getting little or no rest. Because of the few hours of sleep, he usually has intense headaches. This time it is particularly painful because he has already been very busy in Argentina and now he is continuing at the same pace in Uruguay. In the evening, when he gets home, as always, there is correspondence waiting for him to read and answer. On Sunday, August 17, the day’s activities begin at 7:30 a.m. with the celebration of a group of Sisters in New Helvetia receiving Mary’s dress. He has to make an effort to read the whole rite in Spanish. That same morning more than two thousand pilgrims arrive for a religious encounter. Father receives, greets, and listens to the people who are coming off the dozens of buses arriving for the occasion. He gives each one of them his undivided attention.

A shepherd who goes out of his way for his flock

That same day, after lunch, he addresses a few words to all the pilgrims present. When the sun went down, everyone wanted to say goodbye to the Founder and it was getting late. Father tells Sister M. Ursula that he is retiring to rest, which is very unusual for him. The Sisters are gathered downstairs commenting on the beautiful things they have experienced during the day. They call him so that he too may share in their joy. Someone wanted to ask him for something else. Those who know how tired he is suggesting not to disturb him. But Father heard of this and asked: “What do you need? At dawn, they had to travel back to the city of Salto and they wanted to receive communion at half-past four in the morning. Immediately and without hesitation, he answered: “That is what Father is for, that is what he is a priest for”.


Father Kentenich

A priest “with a smelling of sheep”

Shortly after Father Kentenich arrived, he was invited to spend the day in the countryside, with a family very close to the Sisters’ school. As soon as they arrived at the place, he celebrated the Holy Mass dedicating simple words to the listeners. After the celebration, he was invited to drink mate, the typical infusion of the countries from the Plata region. He accepted it naturally and immediately drank this unfamiliar beverage.

It will take us a long time to assess the magnitude of the Founder’s mission in Latin America. Without a doubt the Marian roots of its peoples urged him to tirelessly explore its geography. His passage through these lands meant wear and tear in the service of his great Marian mission.

As Pope Francis expresses it, he knew that “She is the gift of Jesus to his people. (…) She has always been and will always be with her children, especially the smallest and people in She has been woven into the fabric of the history of our lands and their people, (…) their faith is impregnated with love for Our Lady”. (Cf. Pope Francis’ words at the Angelus on 12.07.2015).

We know that this anniversary will make us perceive in a special way the presence of our Father and Founder among us in the treasure he left us as an inheritance in this sacred place, our Shrine. Today, from Uruguay, we implore and continue to offer capital of grace so that the Schoenstatt Work will continue to spread throughout the world, including from this First Daughter Shrine that opened the door for more than two hundred shrines that followed.


with your loved ones

Related articles that may interest you

A Guide towards the Light: An Experience with Father Kentenich

At the end of the previous article, Father Fleischlin described that he came into contact with Father Kentenich after his return from exile, not necessarily through personal encounters, but rather during large conferences and retreats. The following describes one such encounter he had in November 1966 during a retreat organized by his community.

Read More »