By Christina Galeone
SHREWSBURY – Do you have a special hope for the new year? For many people who are ill, frail, troubled, poor or imprisoned, their hope involves two words – Christian compassion. It’s the kind of compassion that sits beside people and holds their hands. It’s the kind of life-sustaining, respectful, loving compassion that Christ gave to the world.
Unbeknownst to a lot of people, there’s a small group of devoted local Catholics (mostly over the age of 75) who share that Christian compassion with others every week. They selflessly share their time and energy as well. Meeting at St. Anne’s Parish once a week, the group – which consists of seven active members – is one of only two Legion of Mary praesidiums (chapters) that still exist in the Worcester Diocese.
Founded in Ireland in 1921 by Servant of God Frank Duff, the object of the international organization is “the glory of God through the holiness of its members developed by prayer and active co-operation in Mary’s and the Church’s work.” That work includes visiting the sick and the disenfranchised. Each week, legionaries – guided by the Holy Spirit – must perform an apostolic work in union with Mary and meet with the members of their praesidium to discuss the work and to pray special prayers. The praesidiums are sanctioned by ecclesiastical authorities in dioceses located in about 170 countries throughout the world.
Dorothy Stanton, a member of the praesidium at St. Anne’s, is one of the original members, since it started after St. Margaret Mary Parish in Worcester closed, and the former church’s parishioners transferred to St. Anne’s. She had been a member of the former church’s praesidium since around 1981. A former religious education teacher, Mrs. Stanton enjoys sharing Christ’s love and compassion with those around her. At 84, she regularly visits nursing home patients. She prays the Rosary with them and brings them Miraculous Medals. “They just appreciate our coming; it’s very rewarding” said Mrs. Stanton. “It means a lot to people.”
In addition to lifting their spirits through prayer and fellowship, she brings them closer to Jesus through Mary. “She’s our mother, and she brings joy to the world,” shared Mrs. Stanton. She added “She’s a special woman in our life and in our world.”
Marion Chaput, the vice president of the St. Anne’s praesidium, also enjoys visiting nursing homes regularly. She said that the members feel good when they see that their prayers and visits are bringing comfort to the residents. She also noted that she enjoys the praesidium’s tradition of giving Christmas gifts to the children who live at McAuley Nazareth Home, a home for at-risk boys. “We feel good,” said Mrs. Chaput about the Christmas tradition. She added “They do their best to make a home for them.”
Like Mrs. Stanton, Mrs. Chaput has a particular devotion to praying the Rosary. She said that legionaries pray for peace, and they strive to share the Rosary with everyone. “We try to help,” said Mrs. Chaput. “It’s strictly a prayerful group.”
Joseph Duggan, a legion leader in the Worcester diocese, used to be part of the former praesidium at St. Joan of Arc Parish in Worcester. The same age as Mrs. Stanton, Mr. Duggan is also fully committed to making a wonderful difference as a legionary. While he visits nursing homes with his wife, Jeanne, he hugs the patients to spread good cheer.
He feels a strong calling to help the inmates at the Worcester County Jail & House of Corrections. He goes there every Wednesday. He prays and visits with the prisoners and presents programs. “I’m not judging them,” he explained. “They’ve already been judged.”
Although he’s been a committed legionary for several years, he said his life changed after visiting Medjugorje. He shares his deepened faith with the prisoners. “It’s a gift to me,” shared Mr. Duggan. “What I do is try to let them know that people care about them. We all make mistakes. I try to let them know that God loves them.”
But while this small group of dedicated members is making a positive difference in the Worcester Diocese, Mrs. Stanton, Mrs. Chaput and Mr. Duggan all voiced the same concern – a hope for the new year. “We just wish more people could become members,” said Mrs. Stanton. “It’s very rewarding work.”