“Whoever has a mission must fulfill it….. even if it leads into the deepest and darkest pits…..even if one mortal leap follows another,” said Father Kentenich with calmness and total conviction at dusk on the 31st of May of 1949, in the little unfinished Shrine at the foot of the Andes. He was at the ripe age of 64. These words were a faithful reflection of his life.
He was born on November 18th in the little town of Gymnich (Germany). At the age of nine he was placed in an orphanage in Oberhausen where he remained for the next five years. In 1899, he entered the Minor Seminary of the Pallottine Fathers in Ehrenbreitstein. He began his novitiate in 1904. After six years of difficult trials – very fragile health, a crisis of faith which lasted for years and a first rejection by his superiors dealing with his priestly ordination – he is ordained a Minister of Christ on July 8, 1910. He then begins a career which will end almost 60 years later when he dies suddenly on September 15, 1968, on Mt. Schoenstatt after celebrating Holy Mass.
Latin and German professor, Spiritual Director in the Minor Seminary of the Pallottine Fathers in Schoenstatt, Founder of the Apostolic Schoenstatt Movement, famous retreat master for priests in the 1920’s and 1930’s, persecuted by national socialism, prisoner in the Dachau Concentration Camp, international apostle (1947-1952), exiled in Milwaukee (1952-1965), rehabilitated in 1965….. he worked actively in Schoenstatt and Germany during the last three years of his life.
Human beings, because of our emotional sensitivity, seek to find God and the divine incarnated in concrete human persons. Mankind cannot live without models. He cannot feel drawn by a purely intellectual and lifeless religion. Normally we come to the invisible reality, to the living God, through visible signs which make Him near to us on earth. That is why men and women of God are always necessary. Today, more than ever, says the Second Vatican Council: “In the life of those who, being men as we, with greater perfection transform themselves in the image of Christ, manifesting the presence and the face of the Living God to all mankind” (Church, 50). The Council also teaches that facing the massive phenomenon of contemporary atheism, it is a task of the Church to make God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, “transparent” and “visible.” (Church and World 21).
This is what Father Kentenich was: a great “transparency” of the paternity of God. A mother of five children remembers him thus: “I met Father…..I felt loved, accepted, welcomed and understood like never before. My life changed…..I no longer feared death, the final judgment nor God…..If a human being, an earthly father can give so much peace and joy to the soul, what is Our Heavenly Father like?”
The universality of its Founder
This is not the place to give a panoramic vision of the life of Father Kentenich. We want to approach his person from a well defined angle: to know his relationship with the Movement of the people and of pilgrims of Schoenstatt. It would be fitting to affirm two things: Being that Schoenstatt is a reflection of the person and the spirit of Father Kentenich, it is logical that the Movement in its spirituality and its structure, may manifest the breadth of the heart, the greatness of the soul, the universality of its Founder. For this reason, Schoenstatt could not be totally a movement destined for a few, for an elite, or a community of leaders. It also has to have a universal dimension, to be open to all. “The universality of the Movement,” said Father Kentenich on one occasion, “demands that all types of individuals and persons may find a home in it” (1935). To achieve this, the Movement of the people and of pilgrims which Father Kentenich called into existence in the founding hour (1914) and concretely motivated since 1934, is also necessary.
At the same time, Father Kentenich played a decisive role in the movement of the people. In Scheonstatt, the presence of Mary in the Shrine and her message come to us through Father Kentenich and he leads us to Mary and to the Shrine. The graces of being at home, interior spiritual transformation and apostolic fruitfulness which the Blessed Virgin dispenses there become obvious in an extraordinary way in his life. His heroic surrender and his life of priestly holiness are also an obvious sign – the strongest – of the reality of Mary as Mother, Queen and Educatrix from the Schoenstatt Shrine.
He embodies clearly the type of “new man” that God wants to give to the Church through the Covenant of Love with Mary.
At the same time, it is a foremost task of the movement of the people and of the pilgrims to make known en masse the person, the charism and the mission of Father Kentenich. “Words move, examples convince…..”
Fr. Esteban Uriburu