An event 100 years in the making, Bishop Ronald Gainer recently celebrated the Legion of Mary’s anniversary with a special Mass at Saint Patrick Cathedral in Harrisburg.
“This is an occasion of great joy and gratitude,” Bishop said. He lauded Legion members and their dedication to Mary, noting that they have brought countless souls closer to Christ because of their work.
The Bishop described the Legion of Mary model as being based on “listening to the voice of God and the voice of our blessed mother in prayer, listening to others and listening to the cry of the poor.”
“As we celebrate this joyful centenary anniversary of the Legion of Mary, we are confident that our Blessed Mother is praying for us and is telling each of us to do whatever her son tells us,” Bishop said.
The Legion of Mary is the largest apostolic organization of lay people in the Catholic Church, with more than three million active members in almost every country of the world. More than 20 parishes in the Diocese of Harrisburg have active members who are each part of a praesidium, which holds a weekly meeting where prayer is intermingled with reports and discussion.
Lisa Hreniuk is a member of the Legion of Mary at Holy Spirit Church in Palmyra. She is the president of the Lebanon Curia, the Lebanon Deanery Legion of Mary which has six adult Legion groups and two Junior Legion of Mary groups.
She said Sunday’s anniversary Mass was uplifting and a lovely way to celebrate what the Legion of Mary means to so many people.
“The reason I am in the Legion of Mary is to become a saint,” she said.
Active members of the Legion of Mary meet every week with other members in their praesidium. They pray the rosary and are assigned a work to do with another active Legion member.
“We meet not to just pray or work, but to make ourselves holy,” Hreniuk said.
The works are of three types depending on the parish priest’s needs.
Types of Work
Hreniuk said the works of Conversion done in the Lebanon Curia are to host Catholic information tables at church festivals and the Mount Gretna Art Show, visit the Lebanon County Correctional Facility every week, and visit door-to-door in local neighborhoods.
The works of Conservation are teaching religious education, visiting the homes of people in parishes to welcome them or bring them a Pilgrim Virgin Statue or congratulate them on receiving the sacraments of Baptism, First Holy Communion, and Confirmation.
The works of Consolation in the Lebanon Curia are to visit hospitals, including psychiatric facilities and nursing homes, and visiting sick, elderly, and grieving parishioners.
“The apple of the Legion’s eye is the visiting of the homes,” said Hreniuk, who has been a Legion of Mary member for 36 years. “My favorite part of our visits is that we befriend all people. We listen and we pray with people. We love the Blessed Mother, not in words alone but by our visits and encounters as we depend on the Holy Spirit and the Blessed Mother to guide us.”
“The Legion of Mary is an apostolate, not just a committee,” Hreniuk said. “The Legion of Mary is a way of life for me.”
A Way of Life
Hreniuk’s three sons worked with her in the Junior Legion of Mary when they were younger.
Hilda Gomez Bednarchik and her husband Mark began with the Legion in 1994 as single young adults (they married in 2008). Gomez Bednarchik’s parents were charter members of the Hispanic Curia since 1976 at St. Francis of Assisi, Harrisburg.
“One of the first works we were involved in was ‘street apostolate,’ mentored by senior “brother” members Tony Macri and Richard Brienzo,” Gomez Bednarchik said. “We walked the streets of Alison Hill distributing rosaries, miraculous medals and other sacramentals, inviting those we encountered to visit St. Francis Church.”
Gomez Bednarchik is active at the Legion of Mary at St. Francis Parish and an officer in the Harrisburg Comitium. She said there are three unique aspects of the Legion that she would like people to understand.
First, she stressed the vocation of the Legion. “It is a call, a heroic commitment, a way of life to Jesus through Mary that enables us, as the laity, to fulfill our baptismal mandate.”
Secondly, she said miracles of grace are tangibly experienced through the group’s weekly one-hour meetings and apostolic work.
Thirdly, Gomez Bednarchik echoed the sentiment of other Legion of Mary members in saying that one of the most rewarding aspects is that they become friends with the people to whom they reach.
Gomez Bednarchik said the best way to learn about the Legion is to attend a meeting.
“The regular meetings with other like-minded Catholic Christians and spiritual directors provides for stability, structure, and accountability that challenges our spiritual life,” she said. “We encourage each other and frequent the sacraments. There is opportunity to attend a yearly enclosed retreat as well as other opportunities for spiritual growth.”
“Ideally, every parish would benefit from having a Legion; to help reach those souls within the parish boundaries that a pastor alone would be unable to reach. There are non-parochial groups that can be formed as well, in prisons, assisted living or nursing facilities,” Gomez Bednarchik said. “It requires a joyful commitment of time, talent and treasure.”
Amy Fox is the president of the Harrisburg Comitium and president of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal Praesidium, Saint Catherine Laboure Parish. She credits the Legion of Mary with enriching her spiritual and personal growth.
“The Legion of Mary has been instrumental in helping me form friendships and connections with others in my parish and in the wider community,” said Fox. “The Legion helped to foster these friendships through the weekly meetings of the Legion, as well as through the work that we do, namely the spiritual works of mercy.”
Fox also echoed the aspect of the Legion’s work that allows and encourages its members to befriend those with whom they work.
“In my case, I have been visiting some of the same residents in assisted living facilities for more than five years and would consider them friends,” she said. “We also have the opportunity to meet others in the parish through pilgrim virgin home visits, tabling at events and encouraging others in their faith.”
Fox said her involvement has been a great personal comfort, as well, in particular during the last year and a half as the world struggled through a global health crisis.
“The Legion also has been instrumental in challenging me to a deeper prayer life, through the discipline of daily prayer and weekly works of service,” she said. “We take our commitments seriously, and during the pandemic, our praesidium remained faithful to meeting weekly by phone for Legion prayers. This was such a blessing to all of us as we navigated through the stress and isolation of that difficult season.”
By Lisa Maddux, Special to The Witness
The following parishes have active Legion of Mary members:
Nazareth House (non-parochial) affiliated with St. Francis of Assisi and Holy Family Parishes, Harrisburg
St. Joseph Parish, Mechanicsburg
St. Catherine Laboure Parish, Harrisburg
Holy Name of Jesus, Harrisburg
Our Lady of Good Counsel, Marysville
Mater Dei, Harrisburg
Seven Sorrows of the BVM, Middletown
Assumption of the BVM, Lebanon
St. Paul the Apostle Parish, Annville
Immaculate Conception of the BVM, Lebanon
Holy Spirit Parish, Palmyra
St. Cecilia Parish, Lebanon
St. Joan of Arc, Hershey (juniors)
St. Leo the Great, Rohrerstown
Holy Trinity, Columbia
St. Joseph Parish, Lancaster
San Juan Bautista, Lancaster
St. Vincent de Paul, Hanover
St. Rose of Lima, York
Immaculate Heart of Mary, Abbottstown
Pius X Parish, Selinsgrove
St. Monica Parish, Sunbury