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Apostolic Movement

Fr. Joseph Kentenich and the meaning of life

By: Ana Paula Paiva | Brazil

Viktor Frankl was an Austrian psychiatrist, who described – in the book “In Search of Meaning” – his experiences in the Nazi concentration camps during the Second World War. In this best seller, he explains how he survived in the midst of so much pain and suffering, focusing on the meaning of his life, understood in terms of the ideals for which his heart beat. After his departure from the camp, he founded an important therapeutic school, called logotherapy, which is intended precisely to help in the search of meaning, which should not only occur in situations as exceptional as a concentration camp, but is intended to provide understanding and maturity to anyone who so desires.

Our Founder in Dachau

Our history in Schoenstatt is also marked by the profound suffering that our founder experienced in the concentration camp. After his courageous acceptance of the cross, Father Joseph Kentenich went through years of difficult trials, trusting fully in Divine Providence and in Mary’s loving protection. In Dachau he wrote our most characteristic and original prayer book: Heavenwards; there he also founded two of our Movement’s Institutes (Institute of the Brothers of Mary and Institute of the Families) giving proof of absolute fruitfulness, belonging, serenity and courage, while he made himself known as a generous and remarkably courageous priest even in the midst of so much misfortune.

The same meaning of life preached by Viktor Frankl was vitally experienced by our Founder. Father Joseph Kentenich faced his fellow prisoners with great strength, victoriously and confidently. Joseph Kentenich would meet with his fellow prisoners (Pessendorf, Kürh and Eise – who died of typhus in Dachau shortly before the war ended); what courage he had in sending clandestine correspondence (courage that was also manifested in the Sisters of Mary who helped him beyond the camp, and in the entire Schoenstatt Family who prayed unceasingly for his release by living in the spirit of the “Blank Check”); what supernatural paternity he had to give comfort to so many who came to him in the camp seeking true conversion, wanting to receive strength in the midst of imminent death, to celebrate the Eucharist so discretely and in the midst of tears of sadness and uncertainty.

meaning of life
Block 14: founding place of the Institute of Families – Photo: Sister M. Nilza

Sense of belonging

Father Joseph Kentenich is the concrete manifestation that a life without meaning cannot be sustained, whether in the midst of great afflictions or in the peace and quiet of daily life. It was the feeling of belonging to God and to Schoenstatt that sustained him throughout this period. It was the certainty of being sheltered in the bosom of a Family – which also sacrificed itself – that led him to that serenity of which so many speak. Could it not be the same for us?

If we have such a great need to belong, which becomes very evident when we encounter the affinity-based groups that are so common today (the cycling group, the runners’ group, the CrossFit group or the rosary people at the parish on Thursday afternoons, for example), wouldn’t it be obvious to connect these bonds with the willingness and strength to overcome challenges?

This is not a herd effect. No. It is just the opposite. It is knowing oneself to be loved, cherished, and cared for by a group whose heart is truly turned towards the same ideals that made the Founder aware of the meaning of his life: to be a father, to be our spiritual father, our Founder.

Living in the Dachau of our life

Amid our challenges, which are obviously more ordinary than his, we too can gain a vital experience of the strength that comes from the meaning of our life. We too can find joy, serenity, and true peace in God’s heart, even in the midst of the storms and perils or setbacks of ordinary life that often lead us astray.

It was on a day like this that our Founder arrived in Dachau to teach us that what is worth living for is worth dying for. Will we follow in his footsteps?


*Ana Paula and her husband Guilherme belong to the Schoenstatt Institute of Families.


with your loved ones

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