“Mother, nothing without you, nothing without us.” – Fr. Joseph Kentenich
St. Bernard’s Parish is tucked away beneath the shadow of the Calgary Foothills Hospital, not far from the banks of the Bow River. It’s a small parish, and its unpretentious exterior gives no hint that within its walls lies a hidden treasure. For upon entering the Sanctuary and greeting Our Lord, one’s eyes are immediately drawn to the beautiful shrine to the right of the tabernacle: the home of Our Lady of Schoenstatt.
The History of Schoenstatt
Schoenstatt, which means ‘beautiful place’, is a small German village located just 8 kilometers north of the city of Koblenz. It was here (in 1912) that a young, recently ordained priest, Fr. Joseph Kentenich, was assigned to be Spiritual Director of the Minor Seminary of the Pallotine Fathers. His aim was “to form his young students into ‘firm, free, priestly personalities’.”1
In April of 1914, the students established a Marian Congregation, and in that same year, an abandoned small chapel in the valley – dedicated to St. Michael the Archangel – was made available for their use. Fr. Kentenich was strongly influenced by the writings of St. Louis de Montfort, and the teachings of this wonderful Marian saint were a source of inspiration to him as he guided the new sodality.2
On October 18th, 1914, the 29-year-old priest met with the members of the Marian Sodality in the chapel, and in a talk that would later come to be known as the Founding Document on Schoenstatt, he said, “Would it then not be possible for our little sodality chapel to likewise become for us the Tabor on which the glory of Mary would be revealed? Undoubtedly, we could not accomplish a greater apostolic deed nor leave our successors a more precious legacy than to urge our Lady and Queen to erect her throne here in a special way, to distribute her treasures, and to work miracles of grace.”3 “You gather what I am aiming at,” he said. “I would like to make this place a place of pilgrimage, a place of grace for our house and for the whole German province, and perhaps even further afield… All those who come here to pray … shall experience the glory of Mary.”4
On that auspicious day, Fr. Kentenich and the members of the Marian Sodality sealed a Covenant of Love with Mary and the Blessed Trinity. Our Blessed Mother did not appear to them on that day; she did not speak to them as she did, for example, in the apparitions at Lourdes and Fátima. But Fr. Kentenich sensed what she wanted to say. “To me,” he said, “it is as if at this moment, here in the old chapel of St. Michael, Our Lady were speaking to us through the mouth of the holy archangel: Do not worry about the fulfillment of your desire. I love those who love me. Prove to me first that you really love me, that you take your resolution seriously. Just now you have the best opportunity to do so.”5
And so, as they entrusted their lives to Our Lady that day, they “ask[ed] her to make the Chapel a home in which to obtain the grace of welcome, the grace of interior transformation, [and] the grace of the mission or fruitful apostolate.”6 This experience became the core of the spirituality of the [Schoenstatt] Movement, and the Chapel was to become a Marian place of pilgrimage for millions of people from all over the world.7
Our Lady erected her throne there in a special way that day, and since then it has been a place from which she has dispensed a multitude of treasures and worked many miracles of grace. That first Marian Sodality became the seed out of which the Schoenstatt Movement was born. The first women were accepted into the Apostolic Federation of Schoenstatt on December 8, 1920, and in October 1926, Fr. Kentenich established the Schoenstatt Sisters of Mary. Today, the Schoenstatt Movement consists of a number of groups: Secular Institutes, the Apostolic Federation, the Apostolic Leagues, Youth Branches, and countless numbers of lay people and pilgrims. While the original shrine is located in Schoenstatt, over 200 ‘daughter’ shrines have been erected since then, each of them exact replicas of the original shrine.8
“All the great and valuable things which we have received in this holy place over the years can be directly traced to our Mother and Queen of Schoenstatt. She is simply the gift which God in his wisdom, kindness, and omnipotence gave to our family in a special way on October 18, 1914, and through our family in a new way to the world.”9 – Fr. Kentenich
Image of Grace
The original image of Our Lady of Schoenstatt dates from the last decade of the 19th century and was painted by the Swiss artist, Luigi Crosio. Entitled Refugium Peccatoyum (‘Refuge of Sinners’), it is now in the possession of the Sisters of Mary. In 1898, the Künzli Brothers (who were printers by trade) bought the rights to the image and sold it under a number of different versions, one of which was a colour lithograph.
After their founding day in October, 1914, Fr. Kententich and the students at Schoenstatt began to look for a picture to enthrone in the old shrine of St. Michael’s. Not long after – in 1915 – a professor belonging to the Institute at Schoenstatt bought a lithograph copy of it at an antique shop and gave it to the newly constituted Marian Congregation as a gift. When the icon arrived at Schoenstatt, it was given the title, Mater ter Admirabilis: Mother Thrice Admirable. In this picture of grace, the Thrice Admirable Mother is revealed as “the Mother of God, the Mother of the Redeemer, and also our Mother. Mary’s deep love unites her to her divine child, and urges her to lead all who come to her to Him.”10
What’s in a name?
Although we speak of Mary under different titles – for example, Our Lady of Fátima, Our Lady of Lourdes, and Our Lady of Luján – “there is only one and the same Virgin Mary, Mother of God and Mother of mankind which has manifested herself – and continues to manifest – in different places.”11 But in each case, the reasons behind the choice of official title are significant. Each title “express[es] a concrete and fundamental attachment to the place where the Blessed Virgin has wanted to manifest herself. Every name also has its history.”12 This is also the case with Our Lady of Schoenstatt.
The official title of Our Lady of Schoenstatt is Mother Thrice Admirable, Queen and Victress of Schoenstatt. The roots of this title are found, first of all, in the fact that the Marian Sodality of Schoenstatt was inspired by the Sodality at Ingolstadt. It was there that Mary was first venerated under the title, Mother Thrice Admirable. A prayer composed by Fr. Kentenich that was circulating at that time began with the words, “Mother Thrice Admirable, teach us to do battle as your warriors …”13
There are several possible different interpretations of the words, Mother Thrice Admirable (Mater ter admirabilis). “First of all, the ‘Thrice’ (ter) denotes matchlessness, beyond count – not just once or twice, but three times admirable! Secondly, the term ‘admirable’ (admirabilis) does not just say Mary is someone we can venerate, esteem and look up to, but reveals she is also someone we can count on – [who we can] ‘look to’ for assistance and comfort. In German this is implied by labelling her Dreimal wunderbar, i.e., three times marvellous or miraculous.
Father Kentenich advanced the interpretation of the title on numerous occasions, highlighting significant features of Mary and her mission: (1) admirable as Mother of God, Mother of the Redeemer and Mother of the Redeemed; (2) admirable in her power, in her kindness and her faithfulness; … (3) admirable as daughter of the Father, mother and bride of the Eternal Word, and vessel and shrine of the Holy Spirit; (4) admirable in her faith, love and hope, and so on.”14
The word ‘Queen’ was added some years later – at the time of the Nazi persecution during World War II, when Fr. Kententich along with other Schoenstatt prisoners in the concentration camp at Dachau crowned her ‘Queen of the concentration camp’. “With this act of Marian piety, they wanted to acknowledge before Mary their human helplessness, and at the same time acknowledge the real power of the Blessed Virgin by expressing their total disposition at her service. Upon his return from the concentration camp, Father Kentenich solemnly renewed this crowning in Schoenstatt on October 18, 1946, proclaiming the Virgin Mary as ‘Queen of the world’.”15
“Mary is also honored as queen. According to the will of the Eternal Father, Mary bore the anguish and death of the cross in loyal love together with her Son. Now she shares in his kingly glory and power in a unique way. At the throne of God, she sees to the building up of his kingdom in our world.”16
“The title of “Victress” is more recent and also comes forth in the history of the Schoenstatt Family. A few short years after the liberation from the concentration camp, Father Kentenich and Schoenstatt began to experience difficult trials. This time the difficulties were with the Church and resulted with the Founder’s exile of fourteen years (1951-1965, the majority of which took place in Milwaukee/USA from 1952-1965). The exile concluded with his rehabilitation in Rome during the fourth and last session of the Second Vatican Council with Pope Paul VI. They were very hard times for Schoenstatt. Humanly speaking, at times there were no glimmers of hope for a solution to the problems. Amid much darkness, Father Kentenich maintained an unperturbed confidence in the final victory of the Blessed Virgin. The events of 1965 (his going to Rome and his rehabilitation which culminated with his return to Schoenstatt on Christmas Eve of that year after an absence of 14 years) produced a decisive change in the situation. Acknowledging the specific action of the Virgin Mary in his liberation, Father Kentenich, during a crowning of the Blessed Virgin in Liebfrauenhohe (May 31, 1966) wanted that in the future “Victress” be added to the title of Mother Thrice Admirable and Queen of Schoenstatt.”17
“As victress, Mary stands in the forefront of all the battles of God which must be fought in this world. She leads us to Christ and through him in the Holy Spirit into the heart of the Eternal Father for the glory of the Triune God.”18
What is the mission of the Schoenstatt Movement?
Fr. Kentenich saw the Schoenstatt Movement as a means for spiritual renewal within the Catholic Church. It offers a place to any Catholic interested in intense spiritual striving, and “is made up of people of all walks of life, all states in life, all ages and cultures. …[Members] strive for everyday sanctity and try to serve the universal apostolate of the Church in the world today. On the 18th of each month, the Schoenstatt family and pilgrims on all continents celebrate covenant day. They celebrate their covenant of love with the Mother of God.”19
“Schoenstatt emphasizes a strong devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, upholding her as a perfect example of love and purity and seeks to invite the Blessed Mother (and, hence, her divine Son, Jesus Christ), into the home by establishing a spiritual Covenant of Love with her. It encourages its members to have the faith and purity of children, and to think of Mary as their mother.”20
In the words of Fr. Kentenich, “[Schoenstatt] wishes to be understood as a universal vision, comprising time and eternity, this world and the next, the economic, social, ethical, political and religious needs of all people, including the dispossessed, the millions of masses… It wants to help redeem the world not only from its earthly sufferings, but also from sin and from its alienation from God. It tries to do this under the guidance and in the school of Our Lady by applying the original principles of Christianity in a new way to restore the disturbed relationship between the individual person and society, the person and business, the person and technology, and the person and social advancement.”21
“Faithful to the teachings of the Founder, the Apostolic Movement of Schoenstatt aims at forming personalities and Christian communities that are capable of freely supporting God’s plan in the world in which they live. The formation proposed by the Movement is based on self-education, faith in Providence, the pursuit of holiness in daily life, and readiness and willingness to be instruments in God’s hands. The particular purpose of the Movement is the spiritual renewal of Christians, which is achieved by promoting educational and religious activities and social projects, also in cooperation with other ecclesial movements.”22
The Covenant of Love
The Covenant of Love with Mary is “the source of vitality and the center of Schoenstatt’s spirituality.”23 In the words of members of the Schoenstatt Movement, “Love for Mary, expressed in this Covenant, is transformed into the quickest and surest way to live in an alive and permanent contact with the God of our life and of our history. Through the Covenant of Love, we become “Family,” since all who seal the Covenant know and feel they are children of Mary, and thus, brothers and sisters to each other. From this Covenant of Love, lived in depth, a strong sense of mission also comes forth; it leads those who seal it to become effective instruments in the hands of Mary in order to collaborate with her in the religious-moral renewal of the world. Through this Covenant of Love, Schoenstatt fulfills its commitment to construct history in childlike dependence and contact, freely and totally for Christ, the Lord of History through Mary, His permanent Collaborator.”24
Devotion to Our Lady of Schoenstatt
Every Wednesday night at 7 p.m. (with the exception of the first Wednesday of the month), devotees gather at St. Bernard’s Parish in Calgary to celebrate a Mass in honour of Our Lady of Schoenstatt. They come to pray – to ask for grace and for that peace that can only come into our hearts when we draw near to our Blessed Mother and her Son. As one devotee so eloquently expressed, “Each Shrine is the center of the life of the local branches of the Movement – and more essentially, each one is an ever-open door to all children of God to encounter Christ and His Mother. In each Schoenstatt Shrine, the sanctuary light glows day and night to announce the presence of Christ in the tabernacle. And just above the tabernacle, illuminated and softly glowing, is the image of Our Lady of Schoenstatt – our Blessed Mother, who holds out her Divine Son to each pilgrim who enters.”25
- Sharon van der Sloot
“The same sun shines everywhere, and yet its rays become particularly effective at certain places…It is the same with the Blessed Mother. In a genuinely human and motherly way she tries to be close to our earth; there she chooses her favorite places…- we call them places of grace per eminentiam, or places of pilgrimage because people go there in large numbers – she reveals her power, wisdom and kindness in an extraordinary way by distributing original, special graces.”26 – Fr Joseph Kentenich (The Shrine, Source of Life, p 67)
Prayer to Our Lady of Schoenstatt
Mother Thrice Admirable, Queen and Victress of Schoenstatt,
Help me to live each day with a practical faith in Divine Providence.
Let me be calm and really listen to what God asks of me each day.
Accept my heart as a gift for your divine Son, and help me keep my baptismal covenant with the Triune God.
1 “What is Schoenstatt? A Place, A Spirituality, A Family,” Schoenstatt.org; available from http://www.schoenstatt.org/en/services/about-schoenstatt/schoenstatt-spirituality/what-is-schoenstatt/; Internet; accessed 14 October 2016.
2 St. Louis de Montfort was particularly known for his devotion to Mary and for the practice of praying the Rosary. He wrote many Marian works, including True Devotion to Mary, The Secret of Mary, and The Secret of the Rosary. It is to St. Louis that we owe the devotion of Total Consecration to Jesus Through Mary, a special path to being conformed to, and united with, Jesus. This devotion is described in his book, True Devotion to Mary.
3 “Place of Grace: Schoenstatt, an international place of pilgrimage,” available from http://schoenstatt-info.com/wallfahrt-schoenstatt/englisch/gnadenort.htm; Internet; accessed 14 October 2016.
4 “A Shrine with a Movement – A Place of Pilgrimage,” Schoenstatt.org; available from http://www.schoenstatt.org/en/services/about-schoenstatt/the-shrine/; Internet; accessed 17 October 2016.
5 “The Founding Document – October 18, 1914,”Schoenstatt.org; available from http://www.schoenstatt.org/en/services/about-schoenstatt/the-shrine/october-18-1914/; Internet; accessed 14 October 2016.
6 Pontifical Council for the Laity, “International Associations of the Faithful: Apostolic Movement of Schoenstatt,” available from
http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_councils/laity/documents/rc_pc_laity_doc_20051114_associazioni_en.html#APOSTOLIC%20MOVEMENT%20OF%20SCHOENSTATT; Internet; accessed 16 October 2016.
7 Cf. Ibid.
8 For a list of shrines around the world, see http://www.schoenstatt.church/. The Schoenstatt Movement is a Roman Catholic Marian Apostolic Movement that was approved by the Church in 1964. It is a renewal movement in the Church whose spirituality is centered on Mary, Fr. Kentenich, and the Shrine of Grace in Schoenstatt. “Today, [it] comprises 20 branches which, with different forms of commitment, gather together men, women, families, young people, priests and consecrated lay persons, in different forms of commitment.”15 (Pontifical Council for the Laity, “International Associations of the Faithful: Apostolic Movement of Schoenstatt,” available from
http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_councils/laity/documents/rc_pc_laity_doc_20051114_associazioni_en.html#APOSTOLIC%20MOVEMENT%20OF%20SCHOENSTATT; Internet; accessed 16 October 2016.)
9 “What is Schoenstatt? A Place, A Spirituality, A Family,” Schoenstatt.org.
10 Ball, “Our Lady of Schoenstatt,” Holy Spirit Interactive.
11 “Mother Thrice Admirable, Queen and Victress of Schoenstatt,” Schoenstatt.org; available from http://www.schoenstatt.org/en/services/about-schoenstatt/the-shrine/mta/; Internet; accessed 14 October 2016.
14 Schoenstatt Scotland, “What Does Mother Thrice Admirable Mean? (12 February 2015);” Schoenstatt Retreat and Pilgrimage Centre; available from http://www.schoenstatt.co.uk/mother-thrice-admirable-mean/; Internet; accessed 14 October 2016.
15 “Mother Thrice Admirable, Queen and Victress of Schoenstatt,” Schoenstatt.org.
16 Ball, “Our Lady of Schoenstatt,” Holy Spirit Interactive.
17 “Mother Thrice Admirable, Queen and Victress of Schoenstatt,” Schoenstatt.org.
18 Ball, “Our Lady of Schoenstatt,” Holy Spirit Interactive.
19 Ann Ball, “Our Lady of Schoenstatt,” Holy Spirit Interactive; available from http://www.holyspiritinteractive.net/features/somethingaboutmary/schoenstatt.asp; Internet; accessed 14 October 2016.
20 “The Schoenstatt Shrine,” St. Paul’s Catholic Church, Milton of Campsie; available from http://www.saintpaulsmilton.org.uk/saintpauls/pilgrimages_schoenstatt.html; Internet; accessed 16 October 2016.
21 “The Schoenstatt Shrine,” St. Paul’s Catholic Church, Milton of Campsie; available from http://www.saintpaulsmilton.org.uk/saintpauls/pilgrimages_schoenstatt.html; Internet; accessed 16 October 2016.
22 Pontifical Council for the Laity, “International Associations of the Faithful: Apostolic Movement of Schoenstatt.”
23 “The Covenant of Love,” Schoenstatt.org; available from http://www.schoenstatt.org/en/services/about-schoenstatt/the-covenant-of-love/; Internet; accessed 16 October 2016.
24 “The Covenant of Love,” Schoenstatt.org.
25 Rachel Elisa Gardner Perez, “Building the First Marian Shrine in the Diocese of Austin,” ATXCatholic; available from http://atxcatholic.com/index.php/2012/06/building-the-first-marian-shrine-in-the-diocese-of-austin/#.WAE2dzK-Kb8; Internet; accessed 14 October 2016.