Saturday, September 17, 2016

Frank Duff and the New Evangelisation

Florida conjures up sunshine, country clubs and Disneyland theme parks. 

But it also contains many churches of various different denominations. 

Earlier this year, a new church with a capacity for 600 worshippers opened in the Parish of St Theresa, Belleview, in the Diocese of Orlando. 

The parish is not financially a rich one, but every item of the building and contents had been paid for when the church was opened.

The new church is located within a small complex of parish buildings which includes the old church now a parish hall, a parochial house, a parish thrift shop and a soup kitchen where 300 people are served by volunteers on a regular basis.

The Church of St Theresa was the venue for a day-long seminar on ‘Frank Duff and the New Evangelisation’.  The seminar was organised by the parish and local members of the Legion of Mary – the organisation which Frank Duff founded. 

The parish priest, Fr David Vivero, was from the Philippines. 

The attendance included many with no connection to the Legion of Mary.

Fr Francis Lendacky, a Slovak, who came to the USA as a seven-year old boy and has been a priest for many years in Philadelphia where he is immersed in the Legion, opened the seminar with the Rosary.

There were three speakers.  I spoke on ‘Frank Duff: the man’. Tim Drake, a journalist and writer spoke on ‘Frank Duff as pioneer of the new evangelisation’, and Fr Lendacky spoke of his 40-year association with the Legion of Mary.


Tim Drake grew up as a Lutheran and later joined the Catholic Church. He was not a member of the Legion of Mary but had discovered Frank Duff when he was given a prayer card with his photo. 

He thought that Frank Duff had a wonderful smile and decided to find out more about him. 

He was impressed with what he found. It was clear from his talk that he had absorbed the ideas of Frank Duff to a remarkable degree. He said that Duff was a ‘magnifier’ of Mary and that he would become a ‘magnifier’ of Duff.

Fr Lendacky said that a big regret of his life was that he only visited Ireland in 1986, six years too late to meet Frank Duff. He said that the Legion was of immense importance for priests and that on two occasions it had been critical for his own priesthood.

Following a Q&A session and lunch the speakers were allotted further speaking time. 

Tim Drake spoke on mercy and the work of Frank Duff. He pointed out that during the first few years of its life what became known as the Legion of Mary was known as the Association of Our Lady of Mercy. 

Fr Lendacky spoke about the spirituality of Frank Duff and the Legion and I spoke about Frank Duff and the Second Vatican Council (1962-65).

Time was available for Confessions and then Mass. The church was full with people of all ages. The congregation sang the various hymns without a choir. Lay ministers and altar servers played their role. 

Towards the end of Mass my daughter Lucy, who came with me from New York where she lives, leaned over and remarked on the “wonderful sense of community”.

Following Mass the evening meal was a modest fundraiser for ‘Shepherd’s Lighthouse’, a group which cares for lone mothers. 

After the meal Fr David spent some time with the speakers together with Karen Kirby, the chief organiser of the seminar. Karen first attended a Legion meeting when she was eight.

Fr David said that he was anxious to harness the potential of the Legion and he asked about the Patricians. The Patricians is a work of the Legion aimed at developing knowledge of religion and of spreading that knowledge.  The movement started in 1955 initially to address the lack of religious knowledge of Irish emigrants.

Fr David said that he only knew the Patricians ‘in the abstract’ from the handbook of the Legion but that he wanted to know of it as a reality.

Lucy, a documentary-maker, who has worked with PBS television and Al Jazeera, told Fr David of her own experience of the Patricians first while at school in Muckross and later in a UCD group. 

Already arrangements are in place for a follow-up seminar in the form of a workshop for legionaries and others interested to develop a Parish Plan of Campaign.

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