The History of the Original Shrine – Extracts from Peter Wolf

Fr. Kentenich in the Shrinesaying MassFollowing the year of the Shrine we want to understand more of what the Shrine means. This text from Peter Wolf’s book on the year of the Shrine gives insight into the “Open Door” that Fr. Kentenich saw.

Fr. Andrew


If we are to understand the origin and development of the Schoenstatt shrine, it is particulary interesting and impressive to listen to the founder himself and see how he experienced the steps taken at the beginning. He always insisted that the start did not begin with miracles and apparitions, but with very objective faith in Divine Providence. When he looked back on Schoenstatt’s history in 1950, he bore witness to the way he had been led. Using the Pauline image of the “open door”, he mentioned certain events that took place as he searched for God’s will. His words show us a young priest who was eager and ready to allow himself to be led. He did not start with fixed ideas and plans, but allowed himself to be guided step by step. Even after many years he could recall the stages of the way along which he experienced and used the “open door”. This readiness to follow the guidance of Divine Providence will have to determine the Schoenstatt Movement’s path into the future.

 According to the Law of the Open Door

An initial door opened when a student, who had a brother with the Jesuits, was sent the magazines of a Marian Sodality. Until then I had personally only known the Sodality as an association for girls. Through the magazines I realised that they were an association for boys, for students.

I also found there an idea I had always had: free, personal action. If you want to become a strong character in a community, you have to educate yourself to autonomy through personal activity. That is the great principle: through self-activation to autonomy. In addition to this, the Sodality added a strongly religious Marian character. For me this closed another gap. It is what I aimed at – in exactly the same way as Pallotti – my final goal; but I always allowed myself to be shown the next step by the law of the open door.

If any of you are interested in the subject, you can be told how minimally religious our young people were at that time. That is why I first cultivated only the ethical aspects. Of course, my goal was that everything had to be anchored in religion. I now found a possibility for self-activation in the Student Sodality, as well as a very strong anchorage in religion. So I decided that a Marian Sodality would gradually take the place of the Mission Association.

Can you notice the law of the open door? The goal never changed, but the individual steps to it were always shown to me by Providence, although I did not know what it was called at that time.

I must still add here how God led me through small steps. I found what later became a custom in the community – the Particular Examination and Spiritual Daily Order – in a pamphlet entitled “Three Means to Save our Youth”. The three means were: a Spiritual Director, a Spiritual Daily Order, and consecration to the Blessed Mother. This opened a door once again; I slipped through quickly and held onto what God had shown me in this way.

It didn’t take long before the 1914 war started. Actually it would be worth your while to pause here briefly and hear in how far the idea of the new person in the new community had already been realized by that time. At the time religious autonomy and ethical striving had already awakened to life. A sense of responsibility for one another had also already taken hold of us in a relatively short time.

Once again I got hold of a publication, seemingly by chance, just as the whole of Schoenstatt’s development is made up of seemingly “chance” happenings. It was the “Allgemeine Rundschau”, which contained a brief article about Bartolo Longo, a lawyer who had been a Free Mason, who had converted and then felt called to found a place of pilgrimage dedicated to the Blessed Mother. Here you again have a strange fact: How many thousands of people probably read this article? And who took it up? – You may not think that I had planned from the first to erect a shrine to the Blessed Mother here. It was a brief article. I read it and the idea awakened in me: Divine Providence has blessed the work started here in such a unique way. So God’s plan must include something special. Couldn’t it also be possible to draw the Blessed Mother down to us here? We talk so much about self-education, but it naturally has its limits. If the Blessed Mother allowed herself to be drawn down to us here to take the education of the young men in hand, we would have three things: a place of grace, a place where the Blessed Mother is uniquely at work as an educator, and a place of pilgrimage where self-education would have an essential part to play. The programme of self-education proclaimed in 1912 would remain.

So I gave the talk, which has gone down in Schoenstatt’s history as the Founding Document, the title: Speeding up our self-education and hence the transformation of our chapel into a pilgrimage chapel. – Self-education had to be enriched by our earnest striving and struggling to draw the Blessed Mother down to us. – Perhaps you could pause here for a moment. You could say, “Such an idea could have been a delusion.” Of course, it could have been. How can you discover for certain whether God has opened a door? You can only be certain about it later on when you see the results of what the idea has brought about. Now that we have existed for so long, we have a bit of history behind us. So we have the opportunity to ask: Did God inspire the idea, or was it a delusion?

You need a strange divine intuition to discover a tiny light in so much darkness, and to discover that Almighty God really is at work. Of course, as time goes by you gain inner certainty, but it is something only the person concerned can have. Others can’t have this certainty. However, if you know the history that has resulted from this idea, you will find in it a proof that God was behind it, and that the idea wasn’t the work of imagination.

Who of you knows the Sodality chronicle? You will find there that for a time the little shrine was a storeroom for garden tools. How little the shrine and Schoenstatt were known! And then the thought gradually dawned: The Blessed Mother should descend here and be the educator of our youth, and besides that call a movement of renewal into life. People at that time would have had to say: It’s a crazy idea! However, in order that people didn’t denounce us as mad, we set up our own discipline of secrecy. (Through it something was to be kept hidden.) We talked about the “Ingolstadt-Schoenstatt Parallel”. We said: Just as a large movement of renewal went out from Ingolstadt at that time, we pray, believe and hope that a movement of renewal for the whole world will also go out from Schoenstatt.

From: Joseph Kentenich, Talk given during the Federation Conference on 28 December 1950.

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