by Erica Carlson

Do you like history?  You might be thinking: Ugh, no, not me…History was/is a nightmare in school, especially when it came to remembering all those dates…  

But not all dates are so bad.  In fact, I bet there are a couple dates that bring you a great sense of joy just thinking about them.  For example, your birthday, or December 25, or other special anniversaries in your family or personal life.  What makes these dates special?  Fond memories, receiving beautiful things that show you that you are loved, days that bring people together…  Lots of reasons could be present.  If you have a special love for your family, all your family’s birthdays and anniversaries are days that you look forward to.  

What’s the point of celebrating a birthday?  Just a day to get spoiled and showered with gifts?  Obviously not.  It’s a celebration of LIFE, and life is a beautiful gift from our Heavenly Father.  When God speaks, he creates something new.  When God said, “Let there be light,” there was light.  When he spoke your name, you came into existence in your mother’s womb.  When God speaks, something beautiful happens.  We can’t help but stand in awe before these days in which God has created something new.  Each new life is a mystery of God’s love.  

On October 18, 1914, God spoke.  In this case, I’m not talking about the birth of an individual person, but rather a family.  This was the birthday of the Schoenstatt Family.  

I don’t know about you, but I love to hear my mom talk about the day I was born.  What were my parents thinking?  How were they feeling?  Was there anything particularly eventful about that day (besides the fact that I was born!)?  What was life like leading up to that day?  After that day?  The answers to this question all say something about me, because it was the “soil” in which God planted the seed of my life.  I can learn about the garden more fully when I look at the soil from which it grew.

What about the garden of Schoenstatt?  What was the soil like?  A young and sickly priest and a bunch of rebellious, adolescent boys.  Wait a minute…  How does that add up?  Schoenstatt is a worldwide movement of religious renewal, with dozens of branches and thousands of members, and even more pilgrims who visit the over 200 Schoenstatt Shrines around the world.  How could such an expansive garden sprout from such scanty beginnings?

Just a little more background information on this “soil”: Father Kentenich was the young and inexperienced priest.  He had entered the Pallottine community of priests, hoping to be a missionary in Africa.  But he was too sick for the missions.  He suffered from lung troubles from young adulthood onwards; a couple times the flare ups were so severe that his fellow priests thought he was going to die.  It would have been understandable for him to be disappointed by his health condition and therefore the inability to go to the missions.  But he was so conformed to God’s will even at a young age, that he put his heart and soul into the task that the Pallottines gave him to do: teaching the boys in their minor seminary.  This was usually the task given to the priests that were too sick to go on mission trips.   

And what about those boys?  Why were they rebelling?  Well actually, by 1914, Father Kentenich had helped these boys to divert their unquenchable desire for greatness in the right direction.  Two years earlier though, things didn’t look so good.  A new house was built in 1912, and the young boys in the minor seminary had to move into it.  That doesn’t sound like a bad thing, but with the new and beautiful house, came a new and beautiful “rule book.”  And let me tell you, some of these rules were rather ridiculous, like giving strict instructions on when the boys could polish their shoes and with what, that they couldn’t look out the windows, and other such things.  Teenage boys don’t particularly like to follow rules, much less rules that don’t make sense.  They responded like “normal” boys.  They rebelled.  They tried to make life difficult for their priest leaders, leaving little notes around the house (an act that was forbidden of course) which had messages such as, “Houses without joy should be burned to the ground.”  Needless to say, the atmosphere was stormy, and the boys’ attitudes were dark and bitter.  This wasn’t good news; after all, these weren’t just any boys, these were the future priests!  They should have been working on striving to become mature, prayerful and strong personalities, but that was far from what was happening.  The priest leaders saw that something had to be done.  They chose a spiritual director for the boys, hoping that he would get them in line.  That didn’t last too long; the spiritual director got sick and had to resign.  It was too much for him.  A second spiritual director was appointed, but he couldn’t take it either.  The leaders knew that an exceptional educator had to be chosen: The appointment fell on Father Kentenich, a favorite teacher among the boys because of his exciting and new ways of teaching.  When he was appointed in October of 1912 to be their spiritual director, the boys were disappointed to lose him as a teacher, but they soon attached to him as their spiritual director and grew to love him as a father who could guide and educate them to be firm, free, priestly personalities.  They grew in leaps and bounds over the next two years, developing their love for Mary and their quest for holiness through dedicated self-education.  By October 1914, God saw that the soil was ready.  

On October 18, 1914, Father Kentenich and the boys met in their newly acquired St. Michael Chapel beside their seminary, which soon become known as the Schoenstatt Shrine.  It was a Sunday at 5 o’clock in the afternoon when Father began his speech, which we now call the “Founding Document.”  In this speech, Father Kentenich presented his “favorite idea” to the boys.  He wanted to make this chapel into a pilgrimage place where the Blessed Mother would come and make it her special throne of grace, where she would dispense her gifts and graces in abundance and work miracles of renewal and conversion.  There was a condition though.  Father and the boys would have to do their part by bringing “contributions to the capital of grace,” which meant their prayers, good deeds, and sacrifices would be offered to the Blessed Mother.  These efforts would gently “force” the Blessed Mother to stay in the shrine and help them to become saints.  This mutual give-and-take would become known as the “covenant of love,” a fitting name, since this was all about gifts of love from heaven to earth and from earth to heaven.  

Did the covenant of love work?  Did the Blessed Mother actually come and make this little chapel her place of grace?  There is an easy way to figure this out: Just look at the garden we call Schoenstatt.  It is huge.  It is vibrant.  It is beautiful.  Obviously, the Heavenly Gardener set to work in the soil and wasted no time in planting seeds that would bear abundant fruit for years to come.  Schoenstatt soon spread beyond the walls of the seminary, beyond the walls of Germany, and beyond the walls of Europe, to literally the ends of the earth.  From a handful of boys, there grew an international family of priests, sisters, brothers, couples, youth of all ages, families, pilgrims and everything in between.  Schoenstatt has become a way of life for many people, giving them a mission, a home, and a family.

For all of us who are blessed to call Schoenstatt our family, October 18, 1914 is a day to celebrate when God spoke the words of transformation over the soil and said, “Let there be light!  Let there be Schoenstatt!” And a beautiful garden came to be, which continues to grow every time a child of Schoenstatt seals the covenant of love, spreads the good news of Schoenstatt, or simply makes a contribution to the capital of grace.  The miracle of new life of October 18, 1914 continues to live on, in us.  

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A Schoenstatt Adventure

To tell the truth, we were 95% excited and 5% nervous as our family drove into the parking lot of the Schoenstatt grounds. Nevertheless, as soon as we saw the beautiful ocean view on the grounds, the familiar Schoenstatt shrine with a Holy Door of Mercy, and a smiling sister who gave us directions, our nervousness subsided. Our family was warmly greeted by Sister Sandra, the sister directing the retreat, Sister Alejandra, who was assisting Sister Sandra, and the young adult volunteers. We were shown to our room, which we were to share with three other girls. We had the typical butterflies one has on their first overnight retreat, but the courtesy of the sisters and volunteers and the friendly manner of other girls who had been to several previous Schoenstatt retreats made us feel welcome.

There were so many wonderful and memorable things about the Schoenstatt Retreat; we hardly know where to begin! First of all, the Schoenstatt sisters were so kind. They were always smiling with a contagious joy as they conducted a retreat activity or served the food at mealtime. The food, by the way, was so delicious, and there was dessert for breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day! Back to the subject, the Schoenstatt sisters emphasized the importance of the virtues, especially cleanliness. The girls were instructed to always keep their rooms tidy; furthermore, a cleaning fairy would leave a surprise gift for those with the cleanest room and neatest bed. We had never been so careful in making our bed before, but our effort was delightfully rewarded. The sisters also allowed the girls to practice service. After every meal, some girls were assigned for dish duty and helped the sisters wash the dishes and clean up. Do not worry; there were different girls assigned for dish duty after every meal, so nearly every girl had their turn. The sisters also had “lights out” at around ten o’clock or ten thirty each night, turning off all the lights and instructing the girls to go to sleep.

The entire Schoenstatt retreat was faith-centered. We had morning and evening prayer in the Schoenstatt shrine every day, and there were confessions for anyone who wished to go. The priest celebrated Sunday Mass in the Schoenstatt shrine for all the girls, and we had all practiced the songs we sung during Mass at the retreat. The retreat was also very well-planned. The Schoenstatt Spring Break Retreat was in March, but the volunteers had been preparing for it since January! The activities were all set up in advance around the Schoenstatt grounds and were well-coordinated. When we first arrived at the retreat, there were hand-made name tags that the young adult volunteers made for all the girls. They were especially helpful in learning everyone’s name, as there were about 45 girls at the Spring Break Retreat! Even the meal prayers were specially planned, each one sung to the tune of a popular song in addition to the regular grace said before meals. Needless to say, the Schoenstatt retreat was so much fun! The first night of the retreat, the sisters showed all the girls a movie, and the retreat activities were based on that movie. All the games we played were fun and involved all the girls, so no one felt excluded. All through the retreat, the games and activities encouraged us to build new friendships. After the retreat, everyone wanted to get the phone number or mailing address of a new friend to keep in touch. The Schoenstatt Spring Break Retreat was fun and faith-centered, but most importantly, it gave us the opportunity to do a work of mercy.

Near the end of the retreat, the Sisters presented all the girls with a surprise gift: a box of shampoos, conditioners, bath gels, lotions, and bar soaps for everyone to choose from. The hygienic items had been given to the Sisters, and the girls were allowed to take as many as they wanted. We remembered that about a month earlier, a lady who worked at shelters had come to talk at a day retreat we attended. She had talked about how there was so much need at the shelters for donations. She also mentioned that toiletry items were one of the things they needed most. Suddenly, from the retreat had blossomed an opportunity to perform a work of mercy. After we explained our idea to make toiletry packets to Sister Alejandra, she generously allowed us to take home the box of leftover hygienic items. Using the gifts from the Schoenstatt sisters, our family set out to make toiletry packets for the people at the shelters.

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All of our supplies

To assemble the toiletry packets, we put a shampoo, conditioner, and bar soap into a goodie bag, sealing it off with a silver tie. We were able to produce attractive, fancy-looking toiletry packets by matching hygienic items of the same brand, or different brands that complemented each other. Not only was it fun to turn such simple things into rewarding gifts, but it was also hopeful. It might seem silly to think that hope can lie in hygienic products, but it can. By giving people the means of keeping themselves clean, their self-dignity is restored; they feel better about themselves. Furthermore, people’s lives are touched. They know that they are not alone in their struggles, and that there are people out there who care about them. This can give them a brighter view of the future. Hope is something that must never be lost. It is our prayer that these toiletry packets will help strengthen or restore it.

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A finished bag ready to go

Moreover, it is especially fitting that we were able to perform this act of mercy during this Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy. During this special year, Pope Francis has called the faithful to perform the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. We are so glad that we were given the opportunity to be merciful to others. The retreat was like the fertilizer: it was where we were given the materials. From there, out sprouted a sapling of mercy.

We are very thankful to the Schoenstatt Sisters for such a wonderful retreat. It was well-planned, faith-filled, and lots of fun! We are so glad we were able to attend. We would also like to say a special thank-you for the hygienic items; these allowed us to reach out to others through a work of mercy. We encourage any girls who have not been to a Schoenstatt retreat to go. It is a beautiful and memorable experience.  We truly benefited from the Spring Break Retreat and cannot wait until our next Schoenstatt adventure!

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Hearts Aflame NOW AVAILABLE

Hearts Aflame is the Schoenstatt Girls’ Youth USA new CD, which features “RTA We Crown You,” “There Will Be Spring” and “One Heart in the Father.” It is now available for purchase on iTunes, Amazon, and Google Play. Hard copy CDs are also available! If you are interested, please contact one of the Schoenstatt Centers.
All proceeds will go to the Schoenstatt Girls’ Youth. 

All proceeds will go to the Schoenstatt Girls’ Youth. 

To be a woman – me, here and now!
Waukesha, WI January 30-31, 2015

As a new day dawns, we come to greet you, Blessed Mother, here in the shrine. In these last few hours you have already allowed us to encounter you, to be taken in by you. This morning our hearts are open, ready to be led by you into the world of our deepest essence: that of being a woman. When we look into your eyes we discover the beauty of a true woman, a great woman who stands before us in all her dignity and beauty. You not only give us a home, a shelter and your motherly love; you also draw us into your pure heart, so we may be formed after your image. What is this image? What does it mean to live the ideal of woman? Continue reading “To be a woman – me, here and now!”