Bishop of Meath Tom Deenihan, reflected on what he described as the “fundamental” influence that the Legion of Mary has had in the Church in Ireland at its centenary celebration at the Cathedral of Christ the King, in Mullingar. The Mass on September 20 was attended by legionaries from branches throughout the Diocese of Meath.
Speaking to The Irish Catholic after the Mass, Bishop Deenihan said that, “The Legion of Mary was very significant because as we see throughout Irish society the corporal works of mercy were a fundamental part of the Church in Ireland’s contribution.
“And I think particularly in the Dublin area in the 1920s and 1930s the work of the legion was pivotal,” he said.
The bishop compared the legion’s pioneering principles to the current philosophy of Pope Francis. “I think that Pope Francis is leading the Church in a way of synodality and open lay involvement and I think that the Legion of Mary is well poised.
“It is unfortunate that membership has dropped in Ireland and I think we need always to see the international perspective”, the bishop added. “I was delighted to see two Columban priests here tonight because in Korea, in Asia – the legion is a very strong organisation and in keeping with Duff’s founding ethos, is working very much with the Church in terms of spreading the Gospel. I think that is what Pope Francis is saying”.
When commenting on the current role that the legion exercises in the Church in Ireland, the bishop felt that “the legion has been working silently in many parishes not just in the area of faith support, but undertaking specific works of charity quietly, discreetly as they should be done. I think they are a very strong faith presence among the lay people of Ireland”.
But the nature of the legion’s mission and altruism can, at times, obscure its presence in the Church and lead to its work going largely unnoticed as the bishop laments, “the strong point is also the tragedy in that the legion is very strong in Navan and Mullingar but much of their work is done so silently that the drawback to that is that it is not visible in many cases as well”.
Speaking on the future of the legion, the bishop believed that there is cause for optimism as he was, “pleasantly surprised and encouraged to see quite a number of younger members here tonight”.
Also attending the Mass was Liam Dawson, a member of the Dunderry Legion of Mary branch. Mr Dawson attributed the diocese’s strong devotion to the Legion of Mary to Frank Duff’s County Meath connections, “Frank Duff came from outside of Trim”, he said. “His grandfather was a principal in a school in Trim. His sister lived in Navan, Mrs Monaghan. Trim would be very special to him because of his grandfather”.
When asked if he believes the legion helped popularise lay involvement in the mission of the Church, Mr Dawson responded, “I think so, definitely”. “You do not join, you are recruited into it because you know someone that is in it. Then when you join it holds you. It helps your spiritual life.
“You are fighting all the time to do your best and give a good example. When you are in the Legion, you are more prepared for problems that might come down the road. Spirituality is very important in the legion”, he said.