The connection to our founder, Father Joseph Kentenich, has distinguished our community in every period of its history. Endowed with a unique mission for our time, he passed on the riches of his God-given charism to us, in keeping with the words of Saint John Paul II:
“By their nature, charisms are communicative and give rise to that ‘spiritual affinity between persons’ and that friendship in Christ which is the origin of Movements. The passage from the original charism to the Movement happens through the mysterious attraction that the founder holds for all those who become involved in his spiritual experience. In this way Movements officially recognized by ecclesiastical authority offer themselves as forms of self-fulfilment and as reflections of the one Church.” (St. John Paul II, Pentecost 1998 to ecclesial movements)
Life of our Founder
Father Joseph Kentenich was born in Gymnich near Cologne, Germany, on 16th November 1885. Divine Providence soon showed that this child was destined for an extraordinary mission. When he was eight years old, his mother made a difficult decision to take him to St. Vincent’s orphanage in Oberhausen, Germany. She felt she was no longer capable of providing her child with the care he needed. In her distress she prayed with her son before a statue of the Virgin Mary in the chapel of the orphanage. It was a moment of grace for Joseph. He sensed the overwhelming love of his heavenly Mother, who affirmed him and would never leave him alone. He consciously consecrated his own heart to her. From this moment, the love between him and Our Lady became his life’s secret and spiritual source of strength. Many years later, he himself said: “She personally formed and educated me from the ninth year of my life.” 1 At the age of twelve, on the day of his first Holy Communion, Joseph Kentenich told his mother he wanted to become a priest. When he was fourteen, Joseph enrolled in the high school of the Pallottine Society in Ehrenbreitstein, Germany.
Father and Educator
On 8th July, 1910, Joseph Kentenich was ordained a priest.He began his priestly life as a gifted teacher and educator in the Pallottine House of Studies in Schoenstatt, Vallendar. An extraordinary bond of trust developed between him and his students. They made his love for Mary their own and through his message learned to see her as a bridge leading to a deep, fervent love of God. It was together with these students that Father Kentenich sealed the original “covenant of love” with Mary on 18th October, 1914, now known as the founding date of Schoenstatt. He founded our community, the Schoenstatt Sisters of Mary, on 1st October, 1926. (see “Our History” for more information). During the 1930s, Father Kentenich gave retreat courses to thousands of priests from dioceses all over Germany. In addition, he held pedagogical conferences for educators and pastors, and innumerable talks for the young Schoenstatt Movement.
Prisoner of the Nazis
As National Socialism rose to power in Germany, its leaders became aware of the profound religious and educational influence of Father Kentenich and the Schoenstatt Movement. Thus in 1941, our founder was imprisoned and later transported to the concentration camp of Dachau. There he was a source of comfort, joy and hope to his fellow prisoners. He worked tirelessly as an apostle in the “hell of Dachau” strengthening the faith of those around him. At the same time he secretly built up the Schoenstatt Work through his writings, continued leadership and the new foundations of the Family Work and the Brothers of Mary. In 1945 Father Kentenich returned to Schoenstatt, unharmed in body and soul.
As Father Kentenich intensified his efforts for the approval of Schoenstatt and its various communities by the Church, it became clear that he had a new way of thinking and educating which was at first little understood and accepted by some higher Church authorities. This led to a fourteen-year exile from Schoenstatt, beginning in 1951, during which Father Kentenich lived in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA, while Schoenstatt and its charism were examined more closely. On 22nd October 1965, the Church officially ended Father Kentenich’s exile and he was restored to his position as father and founder of the Schoenstatt Work. Pope Paul VI gave Schoenstatt his apostolic blessing on 22nd December 1965 and Father Kentenich promised him that Schoenstatt would help carry out the post-conciliar mission of the Church. He spent the last three years of his life living on Mount Schoenstatt in Vallendar, Germany, strengthening and consolidating the Schoenstatt Family.
On 15th September 1968, the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows, Father Kentenich died. It was on a Sunday, the day of resurrection. He was called home to the heavenly Father immediately after celebrating Holy Mass in the Church dedicated to the blessed Trinity. This church had been built in thanksgiving for all the great things that God has done in and through the work of the founder. At request of Father Kentenich , the words Dilexit Ecclesiam (he loved the Church), have been inscribed on his tomb. Father Kentenich’s process of beatification is underway in the diocese of Trier (Treves) in Germany. Many have experienced his intercession from heaven and turn to him in their needs as a spiritual father, guide and companion on their journey through life.