Junior Legions of Mary busy doing good works

FLORENCE — If an idle mind is the devil’s playground, then the young members of the Junior Legion of Mary in Florence and Aiken have nothing to worry about.

The two groups are devoted to giving service to the Catholic Church and their community on a voluntary basis in a multitude of ways.

The Legion of Mary was founded in Dublin, Ireland, in 1921, and the junior legion is a natural extension of the adult branch. Each group is known as a praesidium.

Mary Culleton, president of the Stella Maris Praesidium at St. Anthony Church, said they are an evangelical group dedicated to spreading Catholicism and politely defending the truths of their faith.

Right now, the four active members of the junior legion are making 100 Mission Rosaries for a parishioner who is traveling to Thailand in June.

Culleton said each decade of a Mission Rosary is a different color to represent a different continent. “When you pray on the rosary, you pray for the success of the missions around the world,” she said.

The Junior Legion of Mary in Aiken, Our Lady of Joyful Hope Praesidium, also makes rosaries. They give theirs to visiting priests to take back to their countries, said Mary Ellen Jackson, president.

The two groups also make a variety of greeting cards. Stella Maris made 95 Christmas cards for their auxiliary members, and Our Lady of Joyful Hope takes cards on their weekly visit to a nursing home.

Singing in the choir, participating as altar servers, and giving witness to Christ are all part of the duties of the junior legion.

At St. Anthony, the Stella Maris unit also volunteers at the Bookbarrow, which is their Catholic bookstore.

Culleton said Bookbarrow is a legion term which originates from the days when Catholic faithful would load a wheeled cart with brochures and other religious items and roll it to a corner, where they would evangelize to passersby.

She said their bookstore, which is the only Catholic bookstore in Florence, is not for profit.

The Stella Maris Praesidium also received special recognition in February as the first girls in St. Anthony parish to receive the Marian Medal for completing the “Mary, the First Disciple” program. Jessica Collins, Julia and Shelby Lewis, and Madeline Sansbury received their medals and patches from Father Arturo Dalupang during a Scout Sunday celebration.

While the junior legions are industrious, they also are small. So far, only Florence and Aiken have successfully formed units in the Diocese of Charleston.

Ivy Monahon, the extension chairperson for the Legion of Mary, said they are trying to start a group at St. Gerard Church in Aiken, but have been unsuccessful.

“A lot of people don’t know about the Legion, so we really have to work to get the word out,” Monahon said. “One of our juniors said ‘It’s a cool way to serve Mary.’ I like that — a cool way to serve Mary.”

Vicky Reese, president of the Legion of Mary curia, said starting a group is a simple process. First, a parish priest must approve formation of a unit, then a group of four youths or more ranging from first- to twelfth-grade must meet for 12 weeks. After that, they go to the curia in Columbia and are voted into permanent status as a legion. They are given the blessing and instructed to go forth into the community and fulfill their duties.

Reese said the pastors provide the focus for the legion’s work. Some are instructed to evangelize in hospitals, others at nursing homes or door-to-door.

One of the responsibilities of the Florence group is to decorate the church bulletin board, Culleton said.

In Aiken, Our Lady of Joyful Hope Praesidium sponsors an annual birthday party for Mary. Parishioners are invited to bring a religious item which is blessed by the priest, Jackson said.

“It is a very successful and nice addition to the parish year,” she said.

The groups also go on family pilgrimages to various sites around the diocese.

Jackson said they attended the blessing of Our Lady of Joyful Hope in Kingstree, and have visited Our Lady of Lourdes in Greenwood and Most Holy Trinity in Augusta, Ga.

Both the Junior Legion of Mary and the Legion of Mary meet once a week.

“It’s very disciplined, very structured, with strong, spiritually-led meetings,” Reese said. “The camaraderie and the bond we develop with one another is unbelievable.”

She said it is important that the adults pay more attention to the children and encourage them to be involved in the legion.

“They are the future of the church,” Reese said.

For more information contact Ivy Monahon, (803) 649-4157 or jjmonahon@mindspring.com.