The first meeting of the Legion of Mary took place in Myra House, Francis Street, Dublin, on 7 September, 1921. This meeting was to have very beneficial consequences for the mission of the Catholic Church and, in a special way, for millions of members of lay faithful who would serve in the Legion and for those who would be served by the legionary apostolate. The Legion of Mary now has members in each of the five continents and is particularly strong in South Korea, the Philippines, Brazil, Argentina and the African countries. Here in Ireland there are 22,000 members of the Legion of Mary; across the world the Legion of Mary has ten million members, writes Paula Redmond
The Legion of Mary is a voluntary lay apostolic association of Catholics with devotion to the Virgin Mary. Working to support the Catholic Church, the purpose of the organisation is the spiritual development of its members and to advance the reign of Christ through the Virgin Mary.
The organisation gains ecclesiastical approval before working in a diocese or parish. There are two types of Legion membership – active and auxiliary. Active members are required to attend a weekly meeting and to complete voluntary work of substance. Auxiliary members instead pray the Rosary and the prayers of the Legion (Tessera) for the intention of the Virgin Mary and to assist the efforts of the active members.
The organisation currently has four million active and five million auxiliary members in one-hundred and seventy countries worldwide. Works carried out by members include visiting parishioners, door-to-door evangelisation, visiting the aged and/or sick, prison ministry and religious education, amongst others.
The founder of the organisation was Frank Duff. Born in Dublin in 1889 to a middle class family, Duff attended Blackrock College. He joined the civil service at the age of eighteen and played important roles during the foundation of the Irish State. He served as Michael Collins’ private secretary, and also worked in the departments of land and finance – he played a substantial role in the drafting of the 1923 Land Act.
Through colleagues in work he became involved in the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association of the Sacred Heart. He also joined the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in his twenties. His involvement with the society led to him becoming more committed to his religious faith and gave him a deeper understanding and compassion for the needs of the poor.
In 1917 Duff read Treatise on the True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin written by St. Louis-Marie de Montfort. De Monfort was a seventeenth-century French Roman Catholic priest who was devoted to the Virgin Mary and committed to praying the Rosary. The book had a profound affect on Duff.
On 7th September 1921 Duff and Fr. Michael Toher, along with fifteen women, established the Association of Our Lady of Mercy. Many of the ladies had wanted to assist the wider community but were unable to join the St. Vincent de Paul, which was a male-only organisation at the time. The first work the organisation undertook was visiting the sick in the South Dublin Union infirmary (later St. James’s Hospital), which catered for approximately 4,000 poor people.