Working at World Youth Day has been an eye-opening experience both in terms of experiencing a new culture, but also being exposed to the richness of the universality of our Church through the different movements that are represented in the WYD organization. Some are new realities, some are just new to me like the Schoenstatt Community.
My first encounter with the Schoenstatt Community was meeting one of my WYD co-workers (and roommate!) who is a consecrated member of the community. Hana, a Polish woman in her early 30s is the official WYD photographer. Despite having learned Spanish in September she has managed to become the life of our office, big sister to all younger WYD female staffers, cheerleader at all our official promotional events, and example of how faith meets culture and God meets the world in the 21st century. I knew in the first five minutes of meeting her that there was something special about her and so at dinner one night I asked, "what movement are you with?" She smiled and pointed at an image of Mary that sits on a counter behind our dining table, "Schoenstatt." I blinked and almost said, "bless you?"
It turns out Schoenstatt is German for "beautiful place" and is the name given to a section of the town of Vallendar. I went to spend Easter weekend in Vallendar, which serves as the international headquarters of the Schoenstatt community.
The Pallotine Fathers have a house in Vallendar and in 1914 a young priest named Joseph Kentendich lived in that Pallotine house, teaching Latin and German to seminarians. Fr. Kentendich had some teaching methods that were considered unorthodox in 1914, but these same tactics appealed to his students because they felt he trusted them and their abilities. Soon Fr. Kentendich's students wanted to meet with him outside of class just to talk about life and faith. One of the only places available was an abandoned chapel in the graveyard behind the Pallotine house. That little chapel became a Marian shrine where the young men would meet to talk and pray.
Fr. Kentendich taught those young men that Mary can show us the way to her son and help us in our own quest to live our faith, strive for holiness, in the midst of the modern world. However, he taught, that it's a two way street: we ask her to help us as we try to do our best to live lives of holiness, and she promises to help us, to interceed for us that we might receive the graces we need in order to be the person God created us to be. This came to be known as the "Covanent of Love."
100 years later
Today Schoenstatt is a community with several branches: a secular institute for women, an order of priests, and order of sisters, an institute through which couples and families can get spiritual formation and support, a youth movement, and even an institute for consecrated men. What is unique about Vallendar is that it is made up of a series of hills or in German, "bergs". Each branch of the Schoenstatt community has it's own "berg"....Reginaberg is home to the women's section, Mount Schoenstatt is home to the sister's complex and a church known as "The Adoration Church" while Mount Sion is home to the priests.
Each hill also has it's very own Marian shrine, which is an exact replica of the original shrine behind the Pallotine house. The presence of the little shrines on each hill is sign and reminder of the community's deeply Marian spirituality and spiritual home for each member of the community.
What is common in each of the different branches of Schoenstatt is the belief that Mary helps us find the unique vocation to which God calls each of us. The philosophy the Schoenstatt community abides by is that there is no cookie cutter answer when it comes to one's vocation, but what is important is to find that vocation whatever it is, whether it be consecrating one's life to God through the community, joining a religious order, marrying, or devoting oneself to his or her profession while turning to Schoenstatt for spiritual formation and community.
Although there is no Schoenstatt centre or shrine in Canada, there are several "Schoentattians" living in Canada, all immigrants to Canada who became part of Schoenstatt community in their home countries.
For more information about Schoenstatt visit their website
. The page is available in German, English, Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese.