Essentially, Father Kentenich wanted to create a spirituality which would be adaptable to conditions of rapid changes in the modern world. The plans and resolutions of the young students were severely put to test when many of them were called to serve at the battlefronts of World War I. There, this new vision and life passed the test and the lives and testimonies of the young Schoenstatt members – supported by the MTA Magazine which published their experiences beyond their own ranks – attracted more persons from different states of life.
Schoenstatt began to grow as a retreat center which served different groups of persons from different states of life. Father Kentenich himself gave many of the talks and retreats where he developed the theme of the Covenant of Love with Mary. He emphasized how the world was moving toward a new era and that the Church had to give a convincing response to the needs of the time. Since the 30’s, the activities of the Movement were closely watched by the Nazis.
At the same time, Father Kentenich began to send Schoenstatt Sisters of Mary to other continents to expand the Movement in different countries. It was very common for former students from the founding generation who now worked as Pallottine Fathers on other continents to now open doors to them.
In 1941, Father Kentenich was arrested and sent to the Dachau Concentration Camp for four years. He began to expand Schoenstatt there among the prisoners who were Italians, Poles, Czechs, and from other nationalities.
In 1944, with them, he founded the “International.”
The first Daughter Shrine was blessed on October 18, 1943, by Bishop Alfredo Viola, Bishop of Salto in Nueva Helvecia, Uruguay. The Daughter Shrines came forth as an initiative of the German Schoenstatt Sisters of Mary who were sent as missionaries to countries in South America.
The Sisters in Uruguay experienced how difficult it was to attach a community to a far- away shrine, and in addition to that, it was on German soil at a time of war and subjected to Nazism. They took the initiative to construct a replica of the Original Shrine which was blessed on October 18, 1943, in Nueva Helvecia. At that time, the founder, Father Joseph Kentenich, was in Dachau and for that reason it was not possible to obtain his permission beforehand.
Upon receiving this news, Father Kentenich perceived Divine action and accepted the idea to build a Daughter Shrine at each place where Schoenstatt was flourishing. Today, Schoenstatt is not only a place of grace on the banks of the Rhine in Germany. Around each Daughter Shrine (200 at the present), Schoenstatt is also a beautiful place where many can experience the presence of God. Schoenstatt is a “web of Shrines” and wants to be a bridge between Heaven and earth until the entire world becomes a “beautiful place.”
Fruitfulness of “Dachau”
In Dachau, Father Kentenich was able to experience in himself and in the lives of those Schoenstatters who accompanied him, the transforming and victorious strength of the Covenant of Love with the Blessed Mother…..with the Mother Thrice Admirable of Schoenstatt.
The Covenant of Love lived, most certainly, at the height of “Inscriptio” that is, with a positive disposition when facing the reality of the Cross and suffering…..on that testing ground, he experienced the head-on crash between the “power of darkness” (Col. 1, 13) and the Great Sign, the “Woman clothed with the sun” (Rev 12, 1). There he received a twofold confirmation: on the one hand, the anthropological catastrophe toward which the West was headed; on the other hand, the divine stamp on the Work he had founded. Additionally, he perceived that the “Dachau phenomenon” was not an isolated happening, rather it was the prelude for – in one way or another – what was going to take place throughout the world. The concentration camps – he would affirm – have been at the same time “preparation camps”.
As a result, upon leaving Dachau, he would change the leading strategy of the Schoenstatt Family. Until then, let’s say, for thirty years, his activity was characterized by a prudent and silent style. Henceforth, his actions would have the mark of risk, audacity and much stronger dynamics.
We must also make known another decisive fact: in the concentration camp, Father Kentenich founded the Schoenstatt “International.” He was led to this by a faithful interpretation of the circumstances, a faithful interpretation of the signs of the times. In Dachau, there were prisoners who were priests from different European countries. In that event, was God not showing the way for an international dimension and dynamics for the Work he had begun? On October 18, 1944, in the rain, Father Kentenich took a decisive step forward: “Today we want to form here an ‘international’. All are represented. Until now, Schoenstatt was a limited work. Today, it tears down the walls and becomes international”.
In Dachau and in the Third Founding Document, we find the decisive keys which illuminate the ensuing period of his apostolic activity. After having been able to perceive directly the extreme humiliation of man to which all collectivism project leads – whatever the variety or tone may be – after experiencing the spirit with which that type of man can be conquered and giving his Work a conscious international foundation, Father Kentenich leaves Dachau. And, as soon as circumstances allow it, he goes out into the world searching for allies: “Our Marian mission will not leave me in peace; it has given me strength and courage to rake the entire world searching for allies who can help me to fully realize this mission”(letter to Father Carlos Sehr, 1956). Between 1947 and 1952, he visited South Africa, Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Chile and the United States.
During this period, he wrote a long letter to the Church authorities in Germany. He placed this letter on the altar in the Shrine in Bellavista, Chile on May 31, 1949. In this letter, Father Kentenich highlights the dangers which the Church faces due to some models of theological thinking which separates the life of God from His creation and our Spirit of humanity. It is an attitude which he describes as “mechanistic thinking, living and loving.” The letter was considered offensive and was misunderstood. A response to this was the Visitation of Schoenstatt by the ecclesiastical authorities. This resulted in Father Kentenich’s exile to the United States for 14 years. During this time, the Movement in Schoenstatt and in other countries was under great pressure, and on several occasions came near being dissolved. Within the Movement, this time led to an heroic surrender and to many sacrifices…..following their Founder’s example of love for the Church.
The Second Vatican Council opened a new vision of the Church which better understood the Work of Father Kentenich. In 1965, he was called to return to his native land and was fully rehabilitated by Pope Paul VI. During the following three years, he was able to continue his work with the Movement. He died on September 15, 1968.
After the death of Father Kentenich, the Schoenstatt Movement remained profoundly attached to the person of the Founder, working on the growth of creative loyalty to his mission and his charism, adapting itself to new cultural environments and historical challenges.
Toward the centennial of the Covenant of Love
In 1985, in celebration of Father Kentenich’s 100th birthday, the Schoenstatt Movement united in a great international celebration in Schoenstatt and in Rome with the motto: Your Covenant – our Life.
Since then, the Movement has extended to more countries, and while recovering from the “exile years,” it works to offer its contribution to the Church and society. This is also done in collaboration with other ecclesial movements.
From the 1st to the 7th of February 2009, Conference 2014 began a world-wide level of preparation for the centennial of the Covenant of Love beginning on October 18, 2013 and culminating with a massive pilgrimage to the Original Shrine on October 18, 2014 and continuing in Rome.
The Conference 2014document states:
The “cornerstone” is the celebration of the founding act. Centered around it are the other components of the celebration in Schoenstatt, Rome and locally.
Based on the contributions from the different countries, we perceive clearly that the MTA invites us to an open pilgrimage to the Original Shrine on October 18, 2014. The place and the time have for us a sacramental character.
The celebration at the place of origin should have a simultaneous connection with the entire world. Thus is demonstrated the breadth of radiance of the current of graces from the Original Shrine and the great fruitfulness which returns to original Schoenstatt after 100 years.
The jubilee celebration has another pole in Rome. With our Father, we congregate at the heart of the Church to renew our commitment to it and accentuate our missionary character. We take the fruits of our Shrines and our apostolic projects as a gift and we ask the Holy Father to send us forth. We assume therefore, the wish of the Founder that is expressed in the Shrine of Belmonte: omnia Matri Ecclesiae.
Translation: Carlos Cantú, Schoenstatt Family Federation, La Feria, Texas USA