The history, mission, and action of the Militia of the Immaculata
As a member of the Notre Dame chapter of the Militia of the Immaculata (MI), I have always been committed to the work of evangelization on campus. Only through such work is it possible to accomplish the mission of the organization, that is, to lead every individual to the Sacred Heart of Jesus through the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
I have always asked, “How exactly should I go about doing this at Notre Dame, in a culture that’s nominally 80 percent Catholic, yet where only half of those Catholics attend weekly Mass? Moreover, how can I evangelize when I have academic duties and extracurricular activities?”
In an attempt to garner insight into these questions, I made a pilgrimage to the City of the Immaculata, Niepokalanów.
Built by MI founder Saint Maximilian Kolbe and his confreres in 1927, Niepokalanów was the command center of the MI in its early years. It was from this site that the friars printed the most widely-circulated publication in Europe prior to the Second World War, their Catholic magazine the “Knight of the Immaculata.” They also quickly started a Catholic radio program and constructed a fire department to serve the local town. St. Maximilian truly desired to use all means to spread devotion to the Immaculata.
However, life at Niepokalanów was about more than just the active work. The friars engaged in common prayer, and frequently received the Sacraments. Central to their mission and spirituality was a great love for Mary, a devotion that called one to the radical entrustment of one’s whole self to her and led, through daily prayer and good works, to a quick growth in holiness.
The practice of daily prayer and the total reliance on the Immaculate Mother was, in fact, the foundation that allowed for the MI’s success. This is evidenced by the Marian statue standing on the grounds since day one, and from the fact that the first building the friars built was a chapel. Additional evidence was the requirement that all friars wishing to join the Militia make an act of Total Consecration to Mary, in order that they may, “in a short while achieve the highest degree of perfection”, as St. Maximilian says.
The actions of the Militia’s early friars underscore the importance of individual and communal growth in holiness prior to evangelization. Man is like a spiritual fountain. Prior to being able to pour out graces upon others in words and deeds, one must first receive what one plans to give. That is, one must be rooted in prayer and have a relationship with Christ and Mary before one can lead others to them.
St. Maximilian’s example shows that, to evangelize, one must first grow in holiness through prayer. One must place oneself unconditionally in the hands of the Immaculata, who will lead him to Christ and help him to use his gifts in the most efficient manner possible. Thus, one can be her tool in evangelizing the world. At her disposal, one can and must use all means available that can reach the culture.
With this in mind, I return to my question from earlier: “How can we put this into practice as students at Notre Dame?”
First, we must make use of all the spiritual resources available to us for our spiritual growth: Catholic student groups like the MI, the Knights of Columbus, the Identity Project, and many more; daily Mass in the Basilica or residence halls; Adoration in the Coleman-Morse Center and through EXALT; and the Rosary, whether individually or in groups.
Once we started to conquer ourselves, we begin to evangelize to the people around us, both in words and deeds. Our joyful service to others provides an example that attracts others to our mission, while our words explain the reason for our hope in Christ through the Immaculata.
We do not stop evangelizing with those who are close to us, however. We must dare to reach out of our comfort zones and put into the deep. St. Maximilian was known to strike up conversations with strangers on the train and give them miraculous medals, and we must not be afraid to follow his example, whether it means sitting with someone new in the dining hall or talking with a colleague after class or in the dorm. Additionally, we can have great success through materials that reach multiple people simultaneously, such as social media, blog posts, and even radio shows. We must consider our gifts and our situation in order to determine what are the most appropriate and effective means.
Overall, however, we must remember that evangelization is not just an activity, like watching football or writing a paper. In everything that we do and everywhere we go, we should work to bring others to Christ through Mary. As St. Maximilian Kolbe said, “To win as many souls as possible for the Immaculata is our life, our breath, our every heartbeat”.
Luke Donahue is a senior studying theology and German, with a minor in Medieval studies. Outside of class, he serves as the President of the Notre Dame Militia of the Immaculata and plays a mean tuba in the marching band. He welcomes any questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org