Called by Mary, Legion members are dedicated to service

COLUMBIA — According to Members of the Legion of Mary, joining the lay organization is not just a personal choice.

“It’s like the Blessed Mother calls you to be her hands and feet,” said Ivy Monohon of Aiken, a member of the Legion for 47 years. “You are drawn to the Legion like a vocation. We have so many lay organizations, with new ones springing up, that when people choose the Legion, it’s like divine providence. You realize it’s Mary sending you out when you go out to do your work.”

Monohon will join other members, known as Legionaries, from around the Diocese of Charleston at their annual Acies Mass on March 28 at St. Ann Church in Florence. Father John Zimmerman, administrator, will be the celebrant.

The Acies Mass is a central ritual at which members reconsecrate themselves to Mary and renew their commitment to serving her, Christ and the church.

Acies is a Latin word meaning an army ranged in battle array, according to the official Legion handbook. The word is used to describe the Mass because during it, members prepare themselves for another year of doing the church’s work in the world.

Both active and auxiliary members plus their families and friends, are invited to the Mass. Auxiliary members commit themselves to daily prayer for the Legion.

Founded in Dublin in 1921, it is a lay apostolate dedicated both to spiritual devotion and development, and to performing regular service in the church and community.

The Diocese of Charleston has 15 groups, called praesidia, in Aiken, Beaufort, Charleston, Columbia, Fort Mill, Florence, Gloverville, Lexington, Lake Wylie, Marion, and Murphy Village in North Augusta. Junior praesidia, which include members ages 11-18, are at St. Mary Help of Christians Church in Aiken and St. Anthony Church in Florence.

The Columbia Curia supervises praesidia in the diocese. (See article on page 9 for Legion history and organizational structure).

Legionaries from around the state say the organization has changed their lives.

Mary Culleton helped establish the Stella Maris Junior Praesidium of the Legion at St. Anthony Church. She first heard of the Legion’s work through her mother, who was an active member during the last decade of her life. Culleton said she was drawn to the organization.

She helped establish the adult praesidium at St. Anthony and is president of the junior one. She said the two groups perform a wide range of services in the parish and community, including nursing home and hospital visits, making rosaries, providing rosaries and other religious items, and leading the rosary before Masses. Junior members also help the parish music director, share their faith with others and make home visits to ill family members or friends.

“It has a huge impact on the lives of everyone who becomes a member,” Culleton said. “You can look back on your membership over the years and see how Mary changes your life. It has brought us all closer to the sacraments. The work is an imitation of the Blessed Mother, which in turn is the imitation of Christ. It’s really a giving of one’s self for others.”

The current president of the Columbia Curia is Vicky Reese, who attends Corpus Christi Church in Lexington.

Reese said Legionaries use the Spiritual Works of Mercy as the guideline for their work in the parish and community.

In the Midlands, members from Corpus Christi, St. John Neumann, Our Lady of the Hills and St. Martin de Porres churches make weekly visits at four area hospitals, nursing homes, and assisted living and rehabilitation centers.

Members from Our Lady of the Hills Church in Columbia and St. Peter Church in Beaufort also perform prison ministry in their communities.

“Everything is with the intent to teach the traditions of the church and to help fallen away Catholics find their way back to the church,” Reese said. Evangelization is also a key element in their work.

Deacon Steve Burdick, who attends Our Lady of the Hills Church, joined the Our Lady of Mount Carmel praesidium based there seven years ago.

“I was just very intrigued by the idea of an increased prayer life and an increased opportunity to get out and serve,” he said. “There’s a great humility that comes through service, an especially precious thing. There’s also a real camaraderie among Legion members.”

Deacon Burdick’s regular work includes teaching RCIA in the parish’s prison ministry program, leading other classes and working as an assistant Scout leader.

Ivy Monohon joined the group in 1962 through the encouragement of her parish priest in Cleveland.

“Those were the days of John Kennedy, and everybody was into volunteering, and I wanted to do something for the church,” she said. “I was drawn to the Legion because I learned there were things you could do right in your own neighborhood, that there were people who needed to be spiritually touched.”

Over the years, Monohon’s service has taken her to several different states, and she spent a year doing evangelization work with the Legion in Iceland.

She is now a member of Our Lady of the Holy Family praesidium based at Our Lady of the Valley Church in Gloverville. Monohon is chairperson of Curia Extension, which involves bringing information to parishes that do not have an established Legion.

She and other members of the Gloverville group make weekly home visits to the elderly, shut-ins and their families in the small towns that surround the parish.

“They need holiness in their families, and many really love just having someone to come visit them,” she said.

They visit both Catholics and non-Catholics, she said, and often have an opportunity to correct people’s misconceptions about the church.

“The Blessed Mother has brought me to do what I do,” she said. “When I was a teenager, I asked the Lord what he wanted me to do, and that was to work with the Legion.”

The Acies Mass for the Columbia Curia of the Legion of Mary will be at 10 a.m. March 28 at St. Ann Church, 113 S. Kemp St., Florence.