The 100th anniversary of the founding of the Legion of Mary

The Servant of God Frank Duff


Today is the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Legion of Mary. The Legion is one of the largest lay movements in the Church, and it is almost certainly the most humble – one might expect this anniversary to be trumpeted from the rooftops on many of the Catholic podcasts and YouTube channels that have proliferated in recent years. Instead, the Legion of Mary does its work in quiet humility, and is almost certainly all the more effective for that.

The founder of the Legion of Mary – the Servant of God Frank Duff – was a remarkable man. He was a man of deep spirituality and a brilliant organiser and man of practical affairs, well read in the spiritual literature of his day. Perhaps no surprise then to find, once again, a link with Fr Doyle…

Frank Duff’s spiritual director was the remarkable Fr Michael Browne SJ, and it is probably through this link that we can see some Jesuit influence in the life of Frank Duff. (Incidentally Fr Browne served as novice master to the Irish Jesuits for many years. He was novice master to Blessed John Sullivan who, it is said, modelled himself on Fr Browne to some degree).

We see some of this Jesuit influence in the Legion of Mary handbook, specifically in the quotes from Fr Doyle’s writings that we find there. In addition to several general quotes from O’Rahilly’s biography (O’Rahilly and Frank Duff were well acquainted…), we find the following two quotes from Fr Doyle:

I have long had the feeling that, since the world is growing so rapidly worse and worse and God has lost his hold, as it were, upon the hearts of men, he is looking all the more earnestly and anxiously for big things from those who are faithful to him still. He cannot, perhaps, gather a large army round his standard, but he wants every man in it to be a hero, absolutely and lovingly devoted to him. If only we could get inside that magic circle of generous souls, I believe there is no grace he would not give us to help on the work he has so much at heart, our personal sanctification.

And elsewhere:

I think it is evident that in these days of awful sin and hatred of God, Our Blessed Lord wants to gather round him a legion of chosen souls who will be devoted, heart and soul, to him and his interests; and upon whom he may always count for help and consolation; souls who will not ask ‘How much must I do?’ but rather ‘How much can I do for his love?’: a legion of souls who will give and will not count the cost, whose only pain will be that they cannot do more, and give more, and suffer more for him who has done so much for them: in a word, souls who are not as the rest of men, and who may be fools, perhaps in the eyes of the world; for their watch-word is sacrifice and not self comfort.

Indeed, what better description could there be of a faithful member of the Legion of Mary than these words of Fr Doyle?

It is certain that Frank Duff was aware of, and was inspired by, Fr Doyle. Indeed, we know that early members of the Legion of Mary distributed many Catholic books and pamphlets, including books and literature about Fr Doyle. 

Let us pray today for the Legion of Mary, and specifically for the success of the Legion of Mary Causes – Frank Duff, Alfie Lambe and Edel Quinn – and pray that, in due course, Fr Doyle will join them in that select list of Irish people whose canonisation cause is formally opened. 

Thoughts for September 7 from Fr Willie Doyle

St Ignatius

To be indifferent does not mean to desire things which are hard to nature, but a readiness and determination to embrace them when once the will of God is known. In this sense I think I am indifferent about going to the Congo. But I must force myself to be willing to accept the way of life which God seems to be leading me to and wants me to adopt. My God, I dread it, but “not my will but Thine”.

COMMENT: Fr Doyle, as a Jesuit was well schooled in the spiritual exercises. Indifference plays a big role in the teaching of St Ignatius. As the saint says in the first week of the spiritual exercises:

For this it is necessary to make ourselves indifferent to all created things in all that is allowed to the choice of our free will and is not prohibited to it; so that, on our part, we want not health rather than sickness, riches rather than poverty, honour rather than dishonour, long rather than short life, and so in all the rest; desiring and choosing only what is most conducive for us to the end for which we are created.

Fr Doyle did not personally want to live through the horrors of the Great War. He did not personally want to live a life of self-denial in both little and big things. But he gave himself to all of these things – with enthusiasm – because he thought it was the will of God and that it would lead him to sanctity.

It is somewhat consoling that Fr Doyle dreaded being open to God’s will, rather than his own personal will. Even those who were very holy have their fears.