Development of the Legion of Mary in the Ottawa Archdiocese

If ever the saying; that "Great oaks from little acorns grow" were proven, it was in the humble way the first praesidium of the Legion of Mary was started in October 1934 in St. Joseph's Parish in Ottawa. It could almost be described as "accidental" because of the rapidity with which it got under way. But we know that in God's plan nothing is accidental, although the method is sometimes unusual.

And so it was God's plan that Mary Duffy, the first full-time Legion, Envoy from Legion Headquarters in Dublin, came to Saint John, New Brunswick, at the request of a Redemptorist priest, Father Tim O'Sullivan, and set up praesidia in that region. From there she was to proceed to Toronto, and Father Tim suggested that she stopped off in Ottawa en route.

With only one day at her disposal for such a stop-over, Mary came to Ottawa, in early October 1934. She got into conversation with a priest at the train station, and who do you think it was? None other than Father Scannell, an Oblate priest just arriving from England for his assignment in St. Joseph's Parish. He suggested that she paid a visit to the Pastor there and gave her the address.

Mary dropped in to the church to say a prayer for guidance and, noticing the name "Father James Sullivan" on a confessional, said to herself': "Now that's a good name, I'll try him", and proceeded to the rectory. She was thrilled with Father Sullivan's reception and she had two pluses going for her. (1) She was promoting an organization devoted to Our Blessed Lady and (2) she shared the same nationality, Father Sullivan having hailed from County Kerry himself.

On explaining that she had to go on to Toronto the next day, Father said he would get a group together that evening. There were fast phone calls to some devoted parishioners and Mary spoke to them that night. And that is the unheralded manner in which the first praesidium of the Legion of Mary (called Mary Immaculate) and actually the first in the Ottawa Archdiocese, saw its birth.

Mary Duffy went off to Toronto the next day, leaving the newborn praesidium to develop. The first President was Maye McEvoy and Father Sullivan was the spiritual director. We must remember that the lay apostolate was something almost unheard of at that time. So it took more than a little courage for these first legionaries to make such a commitment and to start out on visitation of the parish - but do it they did! For two years they carried on their work quietly and unobtrusively, with wonderful results under the zealous direction of Father Sullivan. One early report showed that 13 persons under visitation returned to the Sacraments after absences ranging from 1 to 45 years.

Today we salute the memory of those first legionaries in Ottawa, at the same time saluting the present members of "Mary Immaculate" Praesidium, who are carrying on the Legion work in St. Joseph's in the same dedicated spirit.

Then another Envoy was sent out from Ireland to join Mary Duffy in extension work in Canada and the United States. John Murray came to Ottawa in November 1936 and in the course of one month started groups in St. Mary's, St. Brigid's and Almonte.

St. Joseph's Praesidium gave him valuable assistance in this extension. Then there were four praesidia.

As a praesidium is like a body without a heart until a governing Council is established in an area, a Curia was formed in November 1937, with Maye McEvoy as President and Father Sullivan the spiritual director.

In 1941 Father Sullivan was transferred to Vancouver, leaving a deep sadness in the hearts of the Ottawa legionaries on the loss of a very beloved spiritual director. Father Bradley was appointed to succeed him as Curia Spiritual Director, and was with us until November 1971, representing 30 years of devoted service to the Legion. We owe a debt of gratitude to Father Bradley, especially for his fidelity to the monthly Curia meetings and his down-to-earth Allocutios, always oriented to the training of legionaries. Father Lunney succeeded Father Bradley and is still with us.

A Junior Curia was established in 1941 to govern the junior praesidia. The junior section of the Legion played a notable part in Legion history here. At one time 28 praesidia were attached to the Junior Council. The activities of the young legionaries in some cases approximated those of seniors. One notable achievement was an annual day of retreat for physically handicapped children which: when reported in Maria Legionis, resulted in other centres following suit. One happy highlight was the number of young people whose vocations to the priesthood and religious life were fostered by their membership in a junior group. A rundown of some reports reveals a fascinating account of what young apostles can do with the proper supervision and motivation. To our sorrow there are no longer any junior groups in the Ottawa picture - a real challenge faces us today in this respect.

During the years from 1941 to 1956 extension work was carried out in many diocese apart from Ottawa. In fact, so much extension activity was going on that in 1956 the Concilium asked Ottawa to take on Senatus status. This meant governing the Legion throughout the Province of Ontario. It was a tall order, and with many qualms we accepted the new responsibility.

Up until this time the individual French-speaking Praesidia were attached to the English Curia. At this juncture, however, it was felt that the French Praesidia would benefit greatly by having their own Council with affiliation to the Senatus. So Curia Immaculata was set up in 1956, with Sister Jeanne Chagnon as the first president.

Senatus Correspondents were appointed for the affiliated Councils and isolated praesidia in different parts of Ontario, and many generous legionaries gave their vacation time and weekends to extension efforts in and outside of the Senatus area. This is just a sample:
3 months in London Diocese
2 months in Alexandria Diocese
1 month in Hamilton Diocese
1 month in Edmonton area - including Peace River District

An event of tremendous importance was a trip to Lindsay in 1956, where we first made the acquaintance of Mary Kennedy, who was keeping house for Father Carroll. When their group was started, little did Mary Kennedy (or we) dream that she was taking the first step on her way to Legion fame.

On a visit home to Ireland later, she went to Legion Headquarters and the Concilium recognized her as Legion envoy potential. On returning to Canada she spent several years in Ottawa learning everything she could about the Legion. In 1963 when a request was received from Father McKey, S.J. for an extension worker for the Jesuit Indian Missions, the Senatus suggested Mary as an ideal prospect. Most of you know the rest of the story of her 8 years' work throughout Canada as an Envoy, followed by a three-year stint as President of the Toronto Regia, where she did magnificent work in building up the Legion. Mary returned to Ireland about 3 years ago and is now Treasurer of the world Legion Council (known as the Concilium) and she is busier than ever.

In 1978, in order to ease the pressure on the Senatus, the Councils of Windsor Niagara, Hamilton (and later, Peterborough) were transferred to Toronto, which was then raised to the status of Regia. This Council has been doing exceptional work under the devoted direction of Father Sheehy. This was clearly demonstrated at the 50th anniversary celebration of the Legion in Toronto held early that month when Cardinal Carter and 30 spiritual directors (including Father McGrath) concelebrated Mass in St. Michael's Cathedral - certainly a definite indication of approval of the Legion.

And now - I will ask Sister Blanche Gareau, President of Curia Immaculata, to present a resume on the development of the Legion in the French parishes of the Archdiocese. This was prepared by Sister Jeanne Chagnon, who unfortunately is unable to be with us today due to illness.

We offer our warmest congratulations to Curia Immaculata on the splendid progress made since their Council was set up in 1956.

Now I will continue with some special highlights in our Legion history.

Most of our present Praesidia are set up in a parish situation where they can be of tremendous help to a pastor (almost like a second curate) in keeping him in touch with his parishioners. Teaching catechism to children attending public schools, visiting the sick in homes and hospitals, working amongst senior citizens, taking the parish census and carrying out what is called "the apple of the Legion's eye" - home-to-home visitation, of the parish, conferences for non-Catholics - to name only a few of the myriad activities of parish Praesidia.

Over the years the Legion in Ottawa has been unique in the number of non-parochial Praesidia set up for a specific apostolate. Most of these are not in existence now, but they do represent areas of very rewarding apostolates and an important part of our history, so I am mentioning them.

Queen of Apostles - Originally set up to assist with the classes for non-Catholics held at Immaculata High School. With the discontinuance of such classes the Praesidium began to work amongst new Canadians and are still doing great work in that apostolate.
Our Lady of Light - Composed of blind and sighted members - working with the blind, the deaf and other handicapped people. One notable project is an annual day of retreat for the disabled - one such day was held last Saturday.
Retreat Praesidium - In cooperation with the then-existing Retreat Association sponsored special evenings for non-Catholics, converts and various organizations at Villa Madonna Retreat House. This group was disbanded some years ago.
Our Lady Fountain of Faith - (no longer in existence) A unique group whose membership represented 18 different nationalities with the Chinese Centre as their meeting place. They worked amongst University students and young people from the Carribbean. This group was also responsible for initiating the Holiday Apostolate project. Senior high school students under responsible leadership provided by various religious communities went to Indian Reserves in a specified section of Ontario and spent not less than two weeks doing whatever work the pastors' wished. This activity became nationwide and the Legion's association with it discontinued, but it is still being carried on under the dynamic leadership of Father Jim Whelan and Sister Jeanne d'Arc (Sisters of St. Mary of Namur) under the title of "Holiday Community Volunteers" Sister Mary Jefferies (Notre Dame Congregation) was closely involved in the initial stages of this project.
The Seminary Praesidium in Holy Rosary Scholasticate is worthy of special mention because of the fruitful results it has produced. Their purpose was to become familiar with the Legion system so they could apply it later on in their ministry. Many Oblates who were members of this group have given outstanding service as Legion spiritual directors in numerous parts of Canada and mission areas. This praesidium was disbanded some years ago.
Mother of Christ Praesidium - (no longer in existence), visited the men's prison and worked amongst juvenile boys at the Detention Home in Alfred.
A Praesidium in St. Vincent's Rospited (no longer in existence) was composed of patients and outside legionaries. This was written up in 'Maria Legionis', resulting in similar groups being started in other areas.
Mary Comforter of the Afflicted - (no longer in existence) The fascinating story of how this praesidium came about is one all of its own. Weekly visits to the women's prison and follow-up visits after release comprised the assignments. The contribution of Reverend Sister Hortense (Sisters of Charity) was so outstanding that on her death an editorial in the Citizen paid special tribute to her.

And now a brief outline of events which are real highlights of Legion history in Ottawa

First Canadian Congress in October 1941, attended by 250 legionaries from Canada and the United States. 80 out-of-town legionaries were billeted in homes of local members.

Unforgettable Congress in 1947 - held in compliance with Archbishop Vachon's request that all Marian societies hold a Conference just prior to the opening of the Marian Congress. Some 500 legionaries from Canada and the United States attended, and special visitors were Cardinal D'Alton from Armagh, Ireland, Bishop Helmsing of St. Louis, Missouri and Father Francis Ripley of Liverpool, England, whose Legion writings are so well known. The Legion was also invited to have a Booth at "The Marion Congress Mission Exhibit" and some wonderful contacts were made.

P.P.C. Project - sponsored by the Senatus and hosted by St. Patrick's Parish praesidium, when a team from Ireland and local legionaries spent two weeks doing house-to-house visiting in St. Patrick's parish, with some outstanding results.

Catholic Information Booth - at the Central Canada Exhibition for 3 years, where again some wonderful contacts were made with people of all faiths. Father Francis McEvoy did a great job contacting young people.

Pilgrimage to Cap de la Madeleine and Ste. Anne's - First pilgrimage was held in August 1939 - none could be held during the war years. Resuming in 1946, this year represents the 38th trip.

Retreats - Annual retreats for legionaries have been held since the early days of the Legion. A special project for some years was an eight-day Holiday Retreat at the Retreat House of the Missionary Sisters of the Immaculate Conception in Nominingue, Quebec, attracting legionaries from many Countries Father McGrath was one of our favourite retreat masters.

Auxiliaries (rightly called the "praying Wing of the Legion) have supported the work of the active members throughout the years, and our special thanks goes out to them for this precious backing.

This covers in a very general way the development of the Legion since it started here in 1934. At this time there are 16 senior praesidia (English-speaking) in the Ottawa Diocese. Councils affiliated with the Senatus are: Kingston, Belleville, North Bay, Sudbury, Sault Ste. Marie, and praesidia in Thunder Bay and Nipigon. There are still many places in the Senatus area where extension work should be done. Mr.Duff has written an article called Our potential membership is the uncommitted population!! - so it would seem there are many people out there who we could be approaching to join the Legion.

Pope John 23rd once made this statement "The Legion of Mary represents the true face of the Catholic Church today" - that is something for us to remember as he didn't say those words lightly.

Statistics are usually dry affairs, but Legion statistics are anything but. Through the routine of the weekly meeting and assignments, the members reports fairly sparkle with the graces which through Our Blessed Lady have been brought to literally thousands of souls contacted by the Legion in the past 50 years.

With all this talk of accomplishments you might think there were no problems - but there were many of them! Sure it would be the rare Legion Council which never had any. If you know of any such a Council, let us know and we'll give them a few! We should not be boastful about what has been accomplished, but sure there's nothing against us being very happy about it, and certainly we are most grateful to God. The bottom line, of course, is that our fidelity to the Legion rules will mark what makes a good legionary end develops that ingredient called the "Legion Spirit" This is not something floating around in the air where you can grab it, but it must be worked at and cultivated through fidelity to the Legion system. In this way eventually our Legion membership becomes a way of life with that joyousness that should mark a true follower of Our Blessed Lady. Joy is an indication of true Legion membership. If this is not evident in our daily lives, there is something missing in our membership.

This resume of Legion history would not be complete without a special recognition of Father McGrath's contribution to the Legion in Ottawa in so many different ways over the years. His continued interest is evidenced by his presence today for our 5Oth anniversary celebration.

Thanks also to the many priests and sisters who have guided the Legion along the way in the role of spiritual directors. I am sure that Father Sullivan is looking down on this gathering and rejoicing that the seed sown in 1934 has had such rewarding results.

Throughout this resume the names of legionaries involved are not mentioned because there are just too many who have made an outstanding contribution to the Legion in countless ways. But we should pay a tribute to five legionaries no longer with us whose dedication was notable. I speak of Mary Tierney, Marjorie Brennan and Charlie O'Reilly from the Senatus, and Blanche Dionne and Julienne Bernier of Curia Immaculata. We can be confident that they received a royal welcome from Our Blessed Lady for their devoted service in her Legion for so many years.

Before closing, I must pass along a true story once told to us by Mary Duffy. As you know, the Miraculous Medal is standard equipment to every Legion visit. Two legionaries had been visiting the home of an elderly couple for a while and the husband was not all that fussy about their coming. On one occasion he answered the door and finding them on the steps he immediately walked away, bellowing to his wife in the kitchen: "Sarah, it's those darn "miraculous meddlers" again !'

And now to conclude - let us always remember that

All is in the hands of Mary,

In the mighty hands of Mary,

All is in the hands of Mary

Her Legion marches on. "

- May 26th, 1984.B. O'Meara