Joseph Kentenich, born near Cologne, Germany on 16 November 1885, came from very humble beginnings but God chose him to become the founder of a Movement of consecrated and lay people that provided a practical response to the challenges of modern man. At the age of eight, his mother handed him over to an orphanage because the deject poverty in which they lived meant that she was no longer able to care for him. But before she left him at the orphanage, she consecrated the young boy to Our Lady. This became the heart of his Marian spirituality. Throughout his life, in all the challenges that he suffered as a seminarian and as a priest, he experienced the motherly care of Mary and went to her in every situation, allowing her to educate him and guide him.
An Unlikely Candidate for the Priesthood
His greatest desire was to be a priest, but his family background made him an unlikely candidate for the priesthood. Eventually, the Pallottines accepted him. During his studies to become a priest he battled with deep theological questions, many of which revolved around the issue of freedom. The Catholic Church was very different at the turn of the twentieth century and did not easily allow questioning. Joseph Kentenich believed that people should be inwardly free, following the Church's teachings out of an inner conviction that they were true and not out of force or habit. Freedom and trust in the Blessed Mother would become the core elements of Schoenstatt's spirituality. In later years, he said that of all the difficulties in his life, this period was the one that caused the most suffering. It was his trust in the Blessed Mother that helped him emerge from this deep crisis and he was ordained on 8 July 1910.
Schoenstatt is Born
The young priest was sent to the Pallottines' minor seminary in Schoenstatt, Vallendar where he became the spiritual director for a group of young boys and on 18 October 1914, they converted a disused chapel into a shrine, asking the Blessed Mother to make home there and to be a mother to the boys, many of whom would be sent to fight in the trenches of World War I just a few months later. Under Fr. Kentenich's direction, Schoenstatt slowly grew through the war years and in 1926 he founded the community of the Sisters of Mary. The rise of Nazism in the 1930s forced him to send many of the Sisters to South Africa and South America in an effort to protect the community.
Imprisoned by the Nazis
During World War II, he was arrested by the Gestapo for speaking out against Nazism. He was imprisoned in a dark bunker for four weeks and then transferred to the prison in Koblenz. In March 1942 he was sent to the Dachau concentration camp where the remained until the end of the war. In all things, Fr. Kentenich trusted in Divine Providence, and allowed himself to be guided by the Holy Spirit, so much so that even in a place of death and destruction, Schoenstatt became truly international inside the Dachau concentration camp. After the war, Fr. Kentenich travelled to the Schoenstatt communities overseas that the Sisters of Mary had started, including South Africa
"The New Person in the New Society"
It was in South Africa that Fr. Fr. Kentenich spoke about the dangers of the mass man - the person who unthinkingly gives into social and political trends dictated by society and no longer hears God's unique call for his life. Fr. Kentenich explained that the antidote for this was the "new person in the new community." It is a community of Christians who sees its ideal in the Holy Trinity. This new person is inwardly free and allows himself to be formed by the Blessed Mother so that he can become an agent of change in the world, drawing others back into relationship with God. He strive in with and for the other He developed this more fully while he was in South America.
Exile and Homecoming
These thoughts were revolutionary for the Church of the 1940s and 1950s and the Church authorities in Rome requested that Fr. Kentenich's work be investigated to determine whether it was truly the work of the Holy Spirit. During this time. The founder was not allowed to have contact with his community and he was exiled to Milwaukee in the United States. Father Kentenich remained for fourteen years until 1965, when he was reinstated by Pope Paul VI. On Christmas eve Schoenstatt's father and founder returned to Schoenstatt, Germany and lived there until his death on 15 September 1968. He is buried in Schoenstatt and his tomb bears the words "Dilexit Ecclesiam" - Latin for "He loved the Church."
"One of the Great Priestly Figures in Modern Times"
Fr. Kentenich was able to read the signs of the times and it can be said that his message was a precursor to Vatican II. His thought remains relevant to us in our time, so much so that Saint John Paul II said that Schoenstatt's "special spiritual vitality and successful apostolate [are] marked by the spirit of its founder, great love for the Church and fervent veneration for Mary, the Mother of God," adding that Fr. Kentenich is "one of the great priestly figures in modern history."