Door-to-Door Ministry Introduced Many People to the Catholic Church
by Marc and Julie Anderson
KANSAS CITY – They would give it a try.
This is what Lita Wurtenberger, a member of St. Joseph’s Shawnee Ward, decided about the first Legion of Mary meeting that she and her late husband Laurence attended in 1961.
Today, 60 years later and still a member of the organization, Wurtenberger attended Mass celebrated by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann on September 10 at St. Peter’s Cathedral which commemorated the centenary of the Legion of Mary. The organization was founded on September 7, 1921 by Servant of God Frank Duff, Father Michael Toher and a group of 15 women in Dublin. (Being declared a servant of God is the first step in the canonization process.)
Father Anthony Saiki, Rector of the Cathedral, and Father Barry Clayton, Acting Spiritual Director of the Comitum of the Immaculate Conception (the archdiocesan unit of the Legion of Mary) concelebrated Mass. Father Clayton is Pastor of St. Philip Neri Parish in Osawatomie, Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in LaCygne, and Sacred Heart Parish in Mound City.
According to its official website, the goal of the Legion is “the glory of God through the holiness of its members developed through prayer and active cooperation in the work of Mary and the church”.
As a lay Catholic organization, the Legion has over a million members worldwide who “participate in the life of the parish by visiting families, the sick – both in their homes and in hospitals – and through collaboration in every apostolic aid and missionary enterprise sponsored by the parish.
“They went door to door throughout the parish [when we were approached]”said Wurtenberger.” The priest who was in charge came to our house and invited us to come to a meeting, and we have been going ever since. “
The priest, Father Bernard Schraeder, served as the spiritual director of the Legion of Mary in the parish. He invited the couple to join a “praesidium”, one of the two then comprised of the parish. From Latin for “troops, assistance or aid”, the “praesidium” operates at the parish level and organizes a weekly meeting where members pray together and report on their various activities.
Wurtenberger said that between the personal invitation and the fact that she and her husband “wanted to do something for the church,” it was an easy decision for them to join.
“We had four children at the time, maybe five. . . . We went to the meeting and thought, “It would be nice to give it a try. My husband’s mother was a widow and she said, “If you’re crazy enough to join us, I’m crazy enough to offer to babysit on Wednesday nights so you can go to your meeting. So that was nice. And so, all those years until she died, she was here on Wednesday nights when we went to our meetings.
When Wurtenberger’s husband passed away 12 years ago, he was still attending the meetings.
“I think the Legion is wonderful because it is leading the way and giving you the grace to go and do things that you would never do with the Catholic faith,” she said.
By the time she and her husband started with the Legion, Wurtenberger said there were a lot of young families moving within the parish boundaries.
“We just went door to door and we found a number of Catholics who wanted to join the church and Catholics who didn’t even know where the church was,” she said. “I think we used to have some of the bigger classes for converts.”
“It was also very pleasant to be in contact with the parishioners, especially those who do not go out. . . . We are in retirement homes and say the Rosary, go and visit the prisoners in their homes if they agree, ”she continued. “We’ve made a lot of bereavement calls over the years and visited new families – just all kinds of things to show others that Catholics aren’t exactly like Jehovah’s Witnesses, but we do porter- wore.
In his homily, the Archbishop explained how one of these door-to-door visits affected his family.
“My mother told me that it was the visits of members of the Legion of Mary that motivated my grandparents to put my mother in what would have been the equivalent of a school of religion at the time,” did he declare.
“It really became my mother’s training,” he added, “and she never forgot it.”
“You won’t always see the fruits of your labor,” the Archbishop advised Legion members, “but you are planting seeds with these visits. You will never realize the impact they will have on individuals, families and the life of the church.