Legion of Mary members celebrate 100 years of apostolate

By Joyce Duriga | Editor
Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Legion of Mary members celebrate 100 years of apostolate

Members of the Legion of Mary from around the Archdiocese of Chicago celebrated the 100th anniversary of the international lay apostolate during a Mass at Holy Name Cathedral, State and Superior, on Sept. 26, 2021. Father Gerald O’Reilly, chaplain for the local Legion of Mary, was the main celebrant. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Lily Martinez, a parishioner of St. John Bosco, and her husband pray the rosary with the congregation before Mass. Devotion to the rosary is one of the practices for members of the Legion of Mary. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
A Legion member leads a decade of the rosary. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Members of the Legion lead the procession into Mass. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
A Legion member of African descent prays during Mass. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
A child hugs his mother during Mass. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
A woman prays during Mass. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Father O'Reilly accepts the gifts from Legion members. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
The Legion logo is seen in the foreground during Mass. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
O'Reilly elevates the gifts. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
A Legion member receives the Eucharist. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)

Members of the Legion of Mary in the Archdiocese of Chicago gathered at Holy Name Cathedral the afternoon of Sept. 26 to celebrate their lay apostolate’s 100th anniversary.

Frank Duff, an Irish layperson, founded the Legion of Mary in Dublin on Sept. 7, 1921. The apostolate quickly spread throughout the world and today has members in 170 countries.

Members are centered on devotion to Jesus through Mary inspired by St. Louis de Montfort. They focus on prayer, promotion of the rosary and works of evangelization, such as sharing the Gospel with people in the community.

Members of the legion are organized in groups called “praesidiums.”

Msgr. Joseph Morrison established Chicago’s first Legion of Mary praesidium at Holy Name Cathedral in 1933. Today, 71 groups are active in 34 archdiocesan parishes. More than one praesidium can meet at a particular parish. They can be divided by language or time availability, for example.

Father Gerald O’Reilly, spiritual director to the Legion of Mary in the archdiocese, was the main celebrant for the Mass. He started a Legion of Mary group in 2000 at St. Laurence Parish, which has since closed.

The Legion of Mary was very popular among Catholics of European descent in the archdiocese for many years, and most of those members are now in their 60s or 70s. Interest has grown among newer immigrant communities, including Filipinos, Hispanics, Koreans and Africans, O’Reilly said, and members of those groups, who are mostly younger, have been drawn to the legion.

“Our founder, Frank Duff, came to a discernment that through our baptism, every baptized Christian has a right and a duty to help spread the Gospel,” he explained.

In his homily, O’Reilly said that Duff received a five-minute standing ovation during a session of the Second Vatican Council.

“Those bishops saw that what he did was help people become more zealous about their faith,” O’Reilly said after Mass. “We have a handbook that says, ‘You can have a church full of people, but if you’re not zealous about the faith, it might not take long for it to just disappear.’ But if there is zeal for the faith they will want to share it.”

Legion members meet in their groups weekly and are asked to do 2½ hours of apostolic work each week. Members must be at least 18 years old; younger people can join a “junior” group, O’Reilly explained.

“Our aim is to reach out to people,” he said. “There are some groups that will go door-to-door and knock on the door and bring them the bulletin from the parish and invite them to church. Some even go out to the park or to the bus stop and maybe they’ll hand out rosaries and Miraculous Medals and let them know that they are always welcome into the church,” he said.

Other members do corporal works of mercy, such as visiting the sick and homebound, teaching religious education or RCIA or doing prison ministry. The legion also puts itself at the disposal of parishes for projects or events.

Emma Camara, a parishioner at St. Ferdinand, 5900 W. Barry Ave., joined the Legion of Mary in the Philippines in 1969.

“The Legion of Mary made me be involved in the evangelization of the church. I think I can be a member of all organizations, but this is the best,” Camara said following the Mass.

Devotion to Mary makes it “the best,” she said.

“You cannot go to Jesus without the Virgin Mary,” Camara said. “You have to remember all of the time, every hour, every minute of your life, that the Blessed Virgin Mary is playing a very big role in our life.”

Lily Martinez, a parishioner of St. John Bosco, 2250 N. McVicker Ave., attended the Mass with her husband, Marino. She joined the Legion of Mary in 2003.

“The Legion of Mary has inspired me to go out and complete Jesus’ mission, to go out and preach to all the world,” Martinez said. “That was Jesus’ testament, to go out to the ends of the earth and preach for the salvation of souls. The legion has also blessed me with many graces. I met my husband through the Legion of Mary.”

Knowing Mary more deeply through the legion has enriched her faith life, she said.

“In the 18 years I have been in the Legion of Mary, it has really deepened my faith very profoundly,” she said. “I feel I am a more practicing Catholic and it has also taught me more about my Catholic faith.”

To learn more about the Legion of Mary, visit



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