The Schoenstatt Movement, present in about 42 countries, is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year.
The Schoenstatt Movement began in Germany and was founded by Pallottine Fr. Joseph Kentenich. The priest was entrusted with spiritual direction at a minor seminary where he guided boys ages 13 to 19 and focused on character education.
With the onset of World War I, Fr. Kentenich accelerated his work as the seminarians were being enlisted for battle. On Oct. 18, 1914, he and a small group of the students entered into a covenant of love with Mary in the chapel.
“He thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be possible to think of this place as a place of grace, a place of pilgrimage, not only for us in our seminary, not only in Germany, but even further?’” said Schoenstatt Sr. M. Isabel Bracero. “He had that universal view already then.”
The spiritual movement grew because of the war, since the seminarians were in contact with people from Germany and Austria. Additionally, boys wounded in the war came into contact with nurses in the hospitals, bringing the first women to the Schoenstatt Movement.
“The veil we wear is actually the uniform the nurses wore in World War I in Germany,” said Sr. Isabel. “They received a broach when they graduated, just like us. We’ve kept that. It’s a little different from a habit.”
When Hitler came into power, Fr. Kentenich sent several of the Schoenstatt sisters, founded in 1926, to other countries, not knowing what would happen in Germany. The sisters established themselves throughout the world, including South Africa, South America and the United States.
During World War II, Fr. Kentenich was sent to the concentration camp in Dachau, where he was in contact with priests and people from Poland, Italy, Portugal, Brazil, and South America, allowing for further international expansion of Schoenstatt and his ideas.
Released from the concentration camp, Fr. Kentenich traveled to where the seminarians and sisters were established. While in the United States, he saw possibilities for Schoenstatt, as well as a great need.
In 1949, the church put Fr. Kentenich on trial over questions about his teachings. The outcome resulted in a 14-year exile and a separation from the Schoenstatt foundation. During that time, he spent 13 years in Milwaukee, and focused his attention on the lay people rather than the clergy. The mission of Schoenstatt expanded to work with families as Fr. Kentenich invited couples to come to him with questions about marriage.
“Being exiled in Milwaukee allowed him to fulfill one of his desires to once be parish priest,” said Sr. Isabel. “He developed beautiful parish life and love for the church.”
Fr. Kentenich had an idea of forming a new type of community, one built on solid principles, prayer and a free concentration of God. This helped him develop the many communities of Schoenstatt, including the Schoenstatt Fathers, the Schoenstatt Sisters of Mary, the family institute, the family federation, the couples league, the mothers league, the men’s league, the single women’s league, the boys youth, and the girls youth.
“These communities provide a way for people to experience the grace of the chapel and benefit from the spiritual retreats without committing themselves so profoundly,” said Sr. Isabel.
Since a physical shrine is an integral part of the Schoenstatt movement, shrines needed to be built in the United States. The first replica shrine in the United States was built in Madison in 1953. The shrine in Waukesha was built in 1964. There are two other shrines in Milwaukee, including the Exile Shrine where Fr. Kentenich lived during his time of exile. Other United States shrines are located in New York, Minnesota, Nebraska, Texas and Florida.
The shrine in Waukesha, named the International Shrine of the Father Kingdom, is considered the home shrine.
“(The) Milwaukee (Archdiocese) is the home shrine, at least in the Schoenstatt world,” said Sr. Isabel. “You say ‘home shrine,’ you think Milwaukee.”
In Milwaukee, the Schoenstatt Sisters of Mary focus on being for the church what Mary is for the church, to service the people of God.
“This means that the shrine in Milwaukee is where families are able to bring Mary and the presence of God into their homes and family lives,” said Sr. Isabel. “All of that developed out of Milwaukee.”
Sr. Isabel grew up in Schoenstatt since her parents belonged to the movement. When she was young and her father lost his job, her parents visited Schoenstatt often. She saw what the sisters did for her family, and she wanted to do that for others.
“They just simply gathered their strength, regained their faith, put themselves back together, not only spiritually and religiously, but morally as well,” she said. “That stayed with me; it was so powerful.”
In 1990, Sr. Isabel devoted her life to God and to Schoenstatt.
While most sisters enter Schoenstatt because they’ve known it for years, that was not the case for Sr. M. Jacinta Brunner. Sr. Jacinta decided to devote and offer her life to God after the Second Vatican Council when there was an uncertainty about the future of religious life. When she confided in her parish priest, he suggested Schoenstatt. Having never heard of it, she visited Schoenstatt and immediately felt taken in and welcome.
“I realized one of the graces of the shrine is to be at home,” she said. “I felt very much that way. I made my decision.”
The provincial house was built in Waukesha in 1968 to provide faith formation for 200 Schoenstatt guests. By the late 1990s, there was a need for expansion. The new hall, named Fr. Kentenich Hall, and blessed by Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki on Oct. 12, holds more than 500 people. It allows for larger gatherings, including comfortable space for growing covenant Sundays (Mass, a talk, and lunch every third Sunday of the month) and international conventions.
“We will be able to host the people in such a way that they would really feel at home,” said Sr. Isabel. “Which is one of the very basic experiences of the shrine, really feeling at home.”