Intro from Peter Wolf…
When he gave his first talk in the freshly renovated Chapel of St Michael, which the Provincial Superior had given to the young Sodality to be their Sodality chapel, there was no picture of Mary there. It is possible that a small statue of the Blessed Mother had been put there at the very beginning. However, the Sodalists soon began to look for a bigger picture of Mary for their chapel. The picture of Mary in the Schoenstatt shrine, which is known all over the world today, was the gift of a teacher, who had bought it in a Freiburg antique shop. Fr Kentenich talked about this to his confrères during a Tertianship for Pallottine Fathers in Milwaukee in 1963. Also in the choice of a picture of Mary he had made himself dependent on the guidance and dispensations of Providence. After the passing of almost a hundred years we can be sure that this picture was a gift from heaven, which is loved by countless people of many and varied nationalities and cultures, which would probably not have happened if the choice had fallen on one of the various alternatives that came into question at that time.
A Picture of Mary for the Shrine
Seen from this vantage point we have to ask: How did we acquire a picture? It was not chosen after much thought or special considerations. It happened this way: It was part of God’s plan discovered by the law of the open door. You can probably hardly credit what sort of situation we were in at the time. What I wanted to do with our young people at the time naturally had to be hidden with extreme care. So this was the same thing – once the shrine had been given to us, or we had begged for it as a place of grace and education, it suggested itself, even if only because our youth were so dependent on sense impressions, but also because it was the usual way people thought, that also a picture had to be put up. Of course, our great worry was: How are we to get a picture? At the time we had to keep ourselves so much in the background, almost in the cellar, that we constantly thought: We may not draw attention to ourselves; we have to do everything completely in the background so that no one can notice what we are actually aiming at.
So it happened that to start with we really didn’t know what to do. I have already made you aware that one of our young people, his name was Bezold – to put it objectively, he later hanged himself. In our history there is every sort of human frailty you can think of. Where there are people, you will find human frailties. He was in the army at the time. As I guess, it was because he embezzled a great deal of money. However, I can’t be certain of that. At the time – I wouldn’t like to call it connections – in his neighbourhood at home there was a Baroness von Oer who had painted a beautiful picture of the Immaculata. And in the way of young people who are enthusiastic, he decided to write to her and ask her to paint a picture. He wrote the letter, but it was naturally not posted. It remained on top of the Rector’s desk.
Then along came a former Jesuit, Huggle was his name, who sat next to me at table every day. And as these things happen, during the conversation we came to talk about a picture of Mary and he said he had found a really nice picture in an antique shop in Freiburg. I asked him to send for it. I wanted to pay him for it. As far as I can remember, it cost about 23 German Marks and a few Pfennigs. Of course, he didn’t want me to pay. You can put it this way: it was helplessness. I always see these little things as the law of the open door. Those are the facts. No one liked the picture. However, since we had nothing else … You can only understand all sorts of things if you understand our helplessness and also our discipline of secrecy. What we wanted was so unfamiliar to the mentality of the community, but also to the mentality of the house.
As you know, later on I took the opportunity to connect everything I said about the Blessed Mother with the picture, reading it into and then out of the picture. So as time went by this set up personal and profound emotional associations with the picture. In retrospect – you must study what God had in mind with this blunder, if you want to call it that. It doesn’t matter how you interpret it. At least from an artistic point-of-view it was a blunder. What was God’s intention with it?
It was only later on that I realised that in the refectory in the Old House – I don’t know whether it was in the big hall, or not – if you come into the house, the sacristy is on the right and the big hall is [was] on the left, the Ingolstadt picture of the Mater ter admirabilis was hanging there. Strangely enough, it never entered my head [to use this picture], probably because it belonged to the house. We couldn’t draw attention to ourselves. However, I don’t know. It could be that I never even noticed it. I don’t easily look at pictures unless someone draws my attention to them. I think you have to see things as objectively as they were. So there was no particular reason, at least I never thought of it. Look at how important that is! It proves that the picture – it doesn’t matter what the picture looked like – at any rate it proves that we didn’t choose that picture: it was one that had no connection to Ingolstadt.
We had Pallotti’s picture. Those of you who were over there know that this picture was hanging in the chapel of the sick bay. Strangely enough, the idea never entered my head to choose this picture. It would have been the obvious thing to do. However, I don’t know if I would have done so. We simply had no picture. That is very objective: There wasn’t one and we couldn’t draw attention to ourselves. What advantage does this have? Autonomous! It proves, at least outwardly, how independent the work was from Pallotti.
That is the fact, seen purely in historical terms. Later I always taught: The covenant of love is essentialiter primario connected with the shrine. It is easy to prove. At the time the foundation was made, there was no picture. However, later on I considered it justified to say: Because the picture … It came in relatively soon afterwards, so it soon developed along with the shrine to form an organic unity. Examining it critically I then said: The picture belongs in the shrine at least essentialiter secundario.
I recalled repeatedly – as for example recently – how things had been in the past. For example, our Hermann Schmidt was totally independent of these things, just as his reasoning was very erratic. You at least know his name and what he did. Later, when the Movement had grown somewhat and it became known in public, such people were immediately ready to say: It is true, it isn’t artistic, so do away with it, get another picture! Of course, this again pointed out to us that we had to clarify this institution metaphysically. If in fact, according to its historical development, we can accept that it is essentialiter secundario, we may no longer change the picture. If Almighty God reveals a certain blessing with the shrine and picture, we are no longer free to decide to tell him: You can’t do that, you have to work through another picture. Recently Fr Neuber was thinking there had to be another picture. Probably he wanted Pallotti’s picture. I don’t know. Anyway, from time to time this sort of thinking returns.
By the way, when I was in Africa for the first time – it must have been 1947/48, actually it was the only visit – it was taken for granted (and it really did not depend on Schoenstatt), it was the most popular picture! You can find the picture in all, or at least very many, Catholic families. Besides this, you have to see how often you can come across the picture in South America. Of course, at least according to our German taste for art, the picture is not one you would promote, at least not in this form. However, we are international …
Joseph Kentenich, Monday Evening Talks, 8 January 1963