Today being the Feast of the Immaculate Conception it is a special honor to observe that listed on the National Catholic Community Foundation Catalog of Ministries are the Marians of the Immaculate Conception. Probably like me most Catholics in the United States have not had a personal encounter with this religious Order, and we are the poorer for it.
The Congregation of Marians of the Immaculate Conception consists of more than 500 priests and brothers in 19 countries around the world whose apostolate is to spread devotion to Mary as the Immaculate Conception, to pray for the souls in Purgatory (especially victims of war and disease), and to educate others in the faith. Once acquainted with the Order’s war torn history you will understand its concern for the hapless victims of national belligerence.
Founded in southern Poland in 1673 by John Papczynski, the Order has witnessed and survived the tumultuous events that have roiled that part of the world these past three and a half centuries. John, who became known as Father Stanislaus, joined the Piarist Order and after 19 years with them felt called to establish a new Order, one devoted to the Immaculate Conception. Pope Innocent XII approved the Order in 1699. For the next 200 years the Order grew and shrank in reaction to the political turmoil of Eastern Europe, conflicts which embroiled Turkey, Austria, Sweden, Prussia and most recently Russia.
Undeniably, its most challenging time was in 1904 when as a result of persecution under the Russian czar only one member of the Order remained. As its website relates (www.marian.org) at this critical moment in its history a Lithuanian priest, Father Vincent Sekowski, joined the Order and clandestinely revived it in the lands dominated by Russia. In secret the Order transferred its novitiate from St. Petersburg to Fribourg in Switzerland. By 1927 there were 300 Marians and from that time and place the Order expanded both numerically and geographically. Today there are 70 members in the United States, 12 of whom are seminarians! Their U.S. Province is headquartered in Stockbridge, Massachusetts.
The sanctity and devotion of Father Stanislaus, the Order’s Founder, was officially recognized in 2007 when he was beatified by Pope Benedict. The belief in the Immaculate Conception, which he so valiantly championed and promoted in the seventeenth century was officially defined as dogma by Pope Pius IX in the middle of the nineteenth.
If the history of the Order intrigues you, especially its having been reduced to one member and then its growth to its current number, you will find much more to learn about on its website – not the least of which is the history and popularity of the “Blue Scapular.” Other matters touched on by the website remind us that the event today’s feast honors has been instrumental in God’s plan for the advance of the Kingdom. If we get to know them, we will find that this Order of priests and brothers – whose motto is ‘Pro Cristo et Ecclesia” – to be a compelling witness to this marvelous truth.