The month of September is dedicated to Our Lady of Sorrows, since the feast of the exaltation of the Holy Cross occurs within this month, closely followed by the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows itself. It always reminds me of my time in high school, where I joined the Legion of Mary. The individual groups which comprise the Legion are known as presidia, named after the basic cells of the Roman army – this nomenclature went all the way through the Legion. Each individual praesidium was named in honour of one of the titles of Our Lady. Our high school had such a praesidium and it was dedicated to ‘Our Lady of the Seven Sorrows’, a title I did not have any especial familiarity with before then.
The little group met every week after school hours in an empty classroom. There weren’t that many of us – somewhere around ten for much of the time, I suppose, but it was a fairly static group. We were led by a wonderful teacher called Mrs Hartley then, later on, it was overseen by a wonderful and very gentle teacher called Miss Brennan – now long gone – for whom I had great fondness. I keep in touch with some of these members even now, some forty years later. Each of those members was good and generous with time and good works and I think we all learned from one another.
The structure of the meeting was always the same, in our group as in all the others. Everything began with a prayer to the Holy Spirit and then the recitation of the Rosary, followed by a few minutes of spiritual reading. A large part of the meeting was the report given by each member for the work allocated to them at the last meeting, and now undertaken. After this was the recitation of a prayer called the ‘Catena Legionis’, the official prayer of this great Marian army, which encompassed the spiritual ideals of the organisation; then there was a short briefing called the ‘Allocutio’, which expounded on some aspect of the Legion handbook. There were some standing items at every meeting, but it was these spiritual ones which provided the impetus for everything else – it was, in a sense, the steam which made the engine run.
I think I was probably around fourteen or fifteen when I joined the Legion of Mary – a very formative time in anyone’s life. I learned much from the others in the our little group, and also from the organisation itself and its spirituality. Of course, we were a ‘junior’ group, given our ages – but from time to time we were asked to attend one of the adult group meetings, particularly a broader group known as the ‘curia’. This had oversight of the individual local groups. There was also a regional higher level group called ‘senatus’, though I don’t think I was ever present at this.
For our little school group, much of the work involved running the religious stall in the school, which opened at lunchtimes a couple of times each week – and which, perhaps surprisingly, sold quite a lot of items every week. We sold everything from statues and medals to votive candles and prayer leaflets, together with some books. In fact, it was at this little stall that I bought a copy of the memoirs of Sister Lucia, through which I first heard the story of Our Lady of Fatima. I devoured that book and was astonished at what it related – even now, as much as back then. And I still have this book. Apart from the stall, we handed out Miraculous Medals – I can’t begin to guess how many thousands of these we gave away. Even today, when I see one of these Medals on the little blue string, it immediately takes me back to those joyous days.
Once a year, we had a spiritual retreat – this also meant we got a day off school, though that was always the lesser benefit. Most often, we visited the Schoenstatt Convent in Glasgow, where there was the most beautiful shrine dedicated to the Blessed Virgin. I had never seen anything quite like it. I still have the large framed image of the Mother of God which is venerated in that Shrine and – like those Medals on their strings – this painting never fails to make me smile.
Those were such happy, joy-filled days, and they have a very warm place in my memories and recollections. I see one or two of them from time to time, but I wonder whatever happened to those members of our group with whom I lost touch over the years. I wonder, too, what effect their membership had on them, as I see all too well the effects of that membership upon myself.
Today, due to other commitments I have, I am not an active member of the Legion – however, I do maintain auxiliary membership, which means that I continue to support the work of the Legion by means of prayer, and which I am very happy to do.