The Doll family is a “Schoenstatt Family,” meaning they have entered into a “covenant of love” with the Mother Thrice Admirable, a title given to the Blessed Mother. (Submitted photo)

Rebecca Willard likens the Schoenstatt movement — and the way in which it invites the transformative intercession of the Blessed Mother into one’s daily life — to spring cleaning.

“You know how you sweep, and sometimes you sweep around things?” said the mother of four, who is a parishioner at Holy Apostles Parish, New Berlin. “Well, if you welcome Mary to live with you, she will make sure to move everything so the whole floor is clean. In your life, she will change things for the better — to guide you to the Lord’s will and the path he wants to take you.”

But what is Schoenstatt, and what is a “Schoenstatt Family?”

Very briefly, Schoenstatt is a global ecclesial movement that includes both the laity and clergy. It was founded in 1914 by Fr. Joseph Kentenich, a Pallottine priest, in the German village of Schoenstatt. It is centered on everyday holiness and spiritual renewal through reliance on the “Mother Thrice Admirable,” a title Schoenstatters give to the Blessed Mother.

“Schoenstatt is more than a spirituality for me,” said Dawn Doll, a parishioner at Shepherd of the Hills in Eden in Fond du Lac County. “It’s a way of life.”

“What the Schoenstatt means to me spiritually is so deeply rooted at being selfless and striving for sanctity,” agreed Willard. “It is my whole being.”

Ed and Teri Sanchez, parishioners of St. Anthony in Milwaukee, have been involved in the Schoenstatt movement for more than a decade and represent the Schoenstatt Family League, an organization for couples who “make the aims of Schoenstatt their own and who live its spirituality,” they said.

“Some ways the Schoenstatt Family League has worked for the spiritual renewal within the Church here in Milwaukee has been through engaging families in couples’ retreats, family retreats, days for families in the summer, small couples’ groups,” said Ed Sanchez. “During this year of the Eucharistic Revival, we have had Eucharistic Adoration for families.”

Couples enter the league when they make a “covenant of love” with the Mother Thrice

Admirable after a period of spiritual preparation.

“Sealing the Covenant of Love with the Blessed Mother means that you want to offer her your whole life — good, bad, difficulty, sadness, joy, all of it — and that she accepts you as her child, as you are, and promises to bring you closer to her son each day,” said Doll. “It means living your life with and through the Blessed Mother every day — at least, that is what we strive for.”

“Through the covenant, there are promises and requests between our Mother and each of us personally,” explained Willard, who along with her husband sealed her Covenant of Love in 2020. She described the essence of the covenant as “two-sided giving: We give ourselves to our Holy Mother and she gives herself to us as Queen and Mother.”

On the third Sunday of each month, the Schoenstatt Family gathers at the International Schoenstatt Retreat Center in Waukesha for Mass, followed by a procession to the shrine to renew their covenant with Mary, with opportunities for fellowship and lunch (all families, even those who have not made the covenant, are welcome).

A replica of the original chapel in the German village where Fr. Kentenich first founded the movement, Waukesha’s Schoenstatt Shrine is one of more than 200 “daughter shrines” that exist throughout the world.

The Waukesha shrine feels like “a spiritual home for our family,” said Doll.

“All of our children have (made) or are in the process of making the Covenant of Love,” she said. Before important life transitions, she and Kevin like to take the children to Mass — at the Shrine, if possible. “As they grow up and move away for different reasons, we entrust them to our Blessed Mother, and we know she will protect them when and where we cannot.”

Just as important as the Shrine — with a capital “S” — to Schoenstatters is the shrine — with a lowercase “s.” Most Schoenstatt families maintain a home shrine that serves as the center of their daily quest for holiness. “Living the covenant starts in our home shrine, where (Our Lady) is always present to help us individually and as a family,” said Kevin Doll. “It is the center of our prayers, morning and evening.”

“Every Schoenstatt family names their home shrine,” said Teri Sanchez. The Sanchez family shrine is named “Water into wine” — “to remind us that God takes the ordinary events in our life and transforms them into great blessings.”

For the last 10 years, the Sanchezes have maintained a book of thanksgiving and petitions at their home shrine. “Periodically, we review this book, and we can see how the Blessed Mother has interceded and worked miracles of grace,” said Ed Sanchez, who said that they are always left “grateful and amazed” when reflecting on this book.

Indeed, the “miracles of grace” worked by the Mother Thrice Admirable are evident in the lives of Milwaukee’s Schoenstatt Family League. Living out her covenant, Willard discerned the call to homeschool her children; Kevin Doll is now in formation to become a permanent deacon for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee; and Dawn Doll has taken on the role of Director of Religious Education at St. Matthew and Shepherd of the Hills parishes in Campbellsport and Eden. All cited their involvement with Schoenstatt as a crucial part of their spiritual development.

“If you do this (live out the covenant), you better watch out, because things will change in your home,” said Willard.