Dublin’s Catholic archbishop praises ‘prophetic’ Legion of Mary founder at centenary Mass

Frank Duff, founder of the Legion of Mary. Frank Duff, founder of the Legion of Mary. | Concilium Legionis Mariae via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 1.0).

The Catholic archbishop of Dublin on Friday hailed Legion of Mary founder Frank Duff as “prophetic.”

Celebrating a Mass marking the centenary of the influential lay association, Archbishop Dermot Farrell said that the Irish civil servant anticipated the insights of the Second Vatican Council, despite “persistent opposition” from Church authorities.

“Frank Duff, a man ahead of this time, could be described as prophetic in the true Christian sense of that word: someone sensitive to the call of God and utterly dedicated to God’s will. He translated his prophetic perspective of the universal call to holiness into a vibrant lay movement,” Farrell said in a homily at St. Nicholas of Myra Church, Francis Street, Dublin.

Duff founded the Legion of Mary in the city on Sept. 7, 1921, with the first meeting taking place in Myra House, Francis Street. Today, the association has more than 10 million members in around 170 countries.

“His vision was to offer concrete ways for Catholic lay people to live out the Gospel of Jesus, its call and its mission in the contemporary world, supported by prayer, friendship, trusting in the power of the Holy Spirit, under the patronage and protection of the Mary, who herself had been so open to the message of the angel, that Word who took flesh in her,” Farrell explained.

“Of course, Frank Duff saw that this could not happen in a vacuum. Consequently, the purpose of the Legion of Mary is twofold: the spiritual growth and development of its members, and the witness to and service of the kingdom of God.”

Archbishop Dermot Farrell prays in St. Mary’s Pro-Cathedral, Dublin, Ireland, on Feb. 2, 2021. Photo credits: John McElroy.
Archbishop Dermot Farrell prays in St. Mary’s Pro-Cathedral, Dublin, Ireland, on Feb. 2, 2021. Photo credits: John McElroy.

Farrell, who was named archbishop of Dublin on Dec. 29, 2020, succeeding Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, said that the Legion grew rapidly after its foundation, helped by the group’s high profile at the International Eucharistic Congress in Dublin in 1932.

“There was a wonderful idealism in Frank Duff which prevented him from being blown off course, despite persistent opposition he experienced from ecclesiastical authority,” he commented.

The 66-year-old archbishop said that the Legion foreshadowed the themes of Vatican II, the major event of 20th-century Catholicism. Pope Paul VI invited Duff to attend the Council as a lay observer in 1965.

“Like John the Baptist -- the one who prepared the way of the Lord -- Frank Duff realized, ahead of his contemporaries, that every Christian is called to the apostolic dimension of our faith,” Farrell said.

“It was only with the Second Vatican Council that the laity began to regain their rightful place in the Church. From its foundation in 1921, the Legion was carrying out the mission of the Church as was proposed by the Second Vatican Council.”

Duff died in 1980, at the age of 91, and is buried in Dublin’s Glasnevin Cemetery. His sainthood cause opened in 1996.

The Legion’s basic unit is the praesidium, a parish-based group that gives a weekly apostolic task to members, who usually work in pairs. After a probation period, new members make the Legionary Promise, addressed to the Holy Spirit.

Farrell said that the Legion’s mission remained relevant in the 21st century.

“In a world that is often hostile to the values and vision proclaimed Christ -- in particular, concern for the little ones, and their hope and dignity -- the Legion apostolate continues to be relevant as a necessary tool for evangelization,” he said.

“Those who have never heard of the living Christ are told of him, the sick are consoled, those who have lapsed are encouraged. From Mary, the Church -- all the baptized -- learn the compassion, tenderness, and the care that every person desires.”

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The Legion of Mary’s centenary will conclude with a Mass of Thanksgiving on Nov. 19, 2022. The association’s website said that the Apostolic Penitentiary in Rome had informed it that an indulgence has been granted for the centenary.

Archbishop Farrell offered encouragement to Legion members in Dublin, Ireland’s capital, which has a population of around 1.43 million people.

He said: “The Legion of Mary in Dublin still has a strength about it that it may not have in other parts of Ireland.”

“Why? Because from the start the Legion in Dublin tackled serious social and pastoral problems which other groups shied away from. They had an apostolate to prostitutes, for instance, and set up the Morning Star hostel for the homeless.”

“In contemporary Ireland, the apostolic work of Legionaries can have formidable consequences -- if lived with authenticity, gentleness, and courage -- at the social, political, cultural, and economic levels. The values of the Gospel are not just ideas; they are radical actions on behalf of the poor, the homeless, and the refugees and migrants.”

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