The Schoenstatt Milestones
The Schoenstatt Movement has a rich history and spirituality. Its unique origin, message and way of living the Gospel offer a wealth of new perspectives on the faith and its practice. In this section we want to highlight the turning points or “milestones” in the history of our Movement.
Fr. Kentenich developed the concept of the milestones as a way to grasp and cultivate the unique identity and mission which God has given Schoenstatt. Each is a historical moment that defines a central aspect of what Schoenstatt is. The milestones are
First Milestone: October 18, 1914
The movement was founded on the 18th of October, 1914 by a young Pallottine priest, Fr. Joseph Kentenich [1885- 1968] and a group of junior seminarians.
The intention was to form “firm, free and apostolic men and women” through the Covenant of Love with Mary, and invite her to make the Schoenstatt Shrine a place of grace. From there she would form the hearts of people for the renewal of the Church in our time. Essentially Fr. Kentenich wanted to create a spiritual life that was appropriate for the fast changing conditions of our modern world.
The resolve of the young students was severely tested when many were called to serve in the trenches of the First World War. The Founding Generation produced many heroic lives. Between the world wars Schoenstatt began to grow as a retreat and formation center that catered to many diverse groups of people. Fr. Kentenich gave many of the talks and retreats developing the Covenant of Love with Mary. He highlighted how the world is moving into a new era and the Church has to give a credible response to the needs of our times.
Second Milestone: JANUARY 20, 1942
During the 1930’s the Nazis began to scrutinize the activities of the Schoenstatt Movement. They decided that whoever was won over to Schoenstatt was lost to National Socialism. In 1941 Fr. Kentenich was arrested by the Gestapo and sent to Dachau concentration camp for four years.
In “the hell of Dachau”, he initiated an active apostolate among his fellow prisoners. He wrote theological reflections and prayers, gave regular talks and organized retreats. At the urging of his fellow priests in the concentration camp he wrote a prayer book Heavenward. The spirit of these prayers gave many the strength to preserve their faith and humanity even in Dachau.
Father was released from Dachau on April 6th, 1945. He was 60 years old but did not stop to rest and recover from the brutalities of life in a concentration camp. He moved quickly to strengthen the internal organization of the Schoenstatt Movement in Germany.
Third Milestone: MAY 31, 1949
After the war Fr. Kentenich started traveling to countries where Schoenstatt had become established. During this period he wrote a letter called the ‘Epistola per Longa’ [latin for ‘very long letter’] on ‘mechanistic thinking’ to Church authorities in Germany. In this letter he pointed out the dangers of contemporary theological thought which separated the idea of God from the life of God as opposed to organic thinking, loving and living which sees things in their God-willed context. He placed this letter on the altar of the shrine in Bellavista, Chile for the healing and the mission of the Church.
But he encountered opposition in the Church because his ideas were “too new” and he had a large following of people who valued his spiritual direction. He was a very fatherly pastor. The response to this letter was a Visitation of Schoenstatt by Church authorities who decided to test the Schoenstatt Work by separating Fr. Kentenich from the Movement. He was sent to the Pallottine Province House in Milwaukee, Wisconsin for over 14 years.
Fourth Milestone: OCTOBER 22, 1965
In spite of the difficulties caused by the separation from its founder, Schoenstatt continued to grow and mature. It remained spiritually vibrant and creative. Its aims and spirituality became clearer and parts of its organization came into their final form.
The Second Vatican Council realized the importance and vision of Fr. Kentenich’s work. In 1965 he was called to Rome and fully recognized by Pope Paul VI. This marked the beginning of a new era for Schoenstatt’s mission with the Church.
Fr. Kentenich characterized the inner meaning of the fourth milestone as “standing in divine victoriousness”. To him his freedom and the end of the exile were outward features reflecting a deeper reality that had been growing in Schoenstatt during the years of testing: a deep and unshakable trust and confidence in God’s power to win the victory.
Given its coincidence with the end of Vatican II, the fourth milestone is also connected with the mission of the Church “on the newest shores of the times”. In this light, Schoenstatt not only has a mission for the Church, but also a mission with the Church as she works to accomplish the work entrusted to her by Christ. This cooperation, including with the official structures and hierarchical leadership of the Church, took concrete form when Fr. Kentenich made definite promises to authorities of the Church