EAST FLATBUSH — One hundred years ago in Ireland, a legion of laity embarked on winning souls for Jesus by joining the intercessory work of his Blessed Mother, Mary.
According to its Dublin-based leaders, the Legion of Mary is now the largest apostolic organization of laypeople in the Catholic Church, with more than three million members in 170 countries. All are layworkers who refer to each other as “brother” or “sister.”
The Diocese of Brooklyn, as of 2020, has 1,251 “legionaries” and 1,910 auxiliary members. An estimated 250 of them, from parishes throughout the diocese, came to a Mass of Commemoration on Sept. 7 at St. Therese of Lisieux Parish in East Flatbush.
They represented many cultural backgrounds, including Filipinos, Haitians, Koreans, Hispanics from all over Latin America, plus Irish and Italian members.
Father Rodnev Lapommeray of St. Agatha’s Parish in Sunset Park, celebrated the Mass. He is the spiritual director for the LOM in Brooklyn and Queens. During the homily, he challenged the legionaries to “be who you are meant to be” — agents of Mary.
“When people see a legionary,” Father Lapommeray said, “they should say, ‘Oh, there’s something beautiful here.’ Our mother is humble. She’s gentle. She’s also bold.”
Those attributes exemplify committed legionaries.
Mary Modeste is president of Legion of Mary Brooklyn/Queens Comitium. Moments before the Sept. 7 Mass, she described the Legion’s work of serving “through prayer and attentiveness.”
“Basically, it’s trying to bring souls to Jesus through Mary,” she said. “It is also trying to bring former Catholics back to the Church.”
The “praesidium” is the basic unit of the Legion of Mary, typically based in a parish. The members meet weekly to pray and receive assignments.
“They are sent out like Jesus had his disciples — two by two,” Modeste said. “We knock on doors. Sometimes we encounter people who slam the door. But those who are willing, you talk to them.”
For example, the teams may encounter unwed couples, so they suggest receiving the sacrament of marriage. Other adults and their children may not have received first holy Communion or Confirmation.
“You give them a bulletin and remind them of churches around the corner,” Modeste said. “We let them know there are classes — RCIA programs for the adults and CCD for the juniors. And we follow up.”
Legionaries also visit nursing homes and help schedule Mass for residents, Modeste said.
The president explained that the Legion of Mary focuses on spiritual acts of mercy — ones that build the soul. “Corporal” acts, such as providing food and shelter for the needy, are the missions of other groups.
“We’re not focused on material or physical needs,” she said. “If that’s what you need, we would refer you to the appropriate organization, like St. Vincent DePaul or Catholic Charities.”
Father Lapommeray said a legionary’s work often goes unnoticed but with undeniable victory. The priest spoke of people who returned to Church at the loving invitations of legionaries. He said one woman chose not to have an abortion after a legionary suggested another option — life.
He urged the members to not let up on their work, even as the coronavirus still lurks; he reminded them that the devil hadn’t taken a break because of the pandemic. Therefore, he encouraged the legionaries to stay strong in their faith, rely on Mary, and pray the rosary.
Father Lapommeray also challenged them to be peacemakers in their parishes to deny the devil a chance to spread disunity in the Church.
“Enough of the infighting in parishes!” Father Lapommeray exclaimed. “Enough of the petty divisions! If there is a division in the parish, you must be an agent of peace.”
“So,” he concluded, “as we look forward to another 100 years, what will the Legion of Mary look like in 10 years, 20 years? Part of that depends on you and me.”
The Legion of Mary Centenary schedule includes a Mass and procession on Sept. 19 at Our Lady of Mercy, Brownsville. Next is a Mass, conference, and get-together, scheduled for Nov. 20 at Blessed Sacrament Parish, 34-43 93rd St., Jackson Heights. For more information, email Modeste at email@example.com.