Not so much looking down as across..

Thursday, July 1, 2010

A tale of two Legions

I spent seven years studying for the Mexican missions with the Legion of Christ. I spent the first five - 1969 - 1974 in a boxy building on the Leopardstown Road covered in hideous green cladding (to blend in, we hoped). The tired building stands to this day a monument to the victory of architectural hope over experience. It can be seen clearly from the M50.

It was built as a seminary and was opened in 1969. My group were the first to join in the new building. The group of '68 joined initially in the seminary on Belgard Road in Clondalkin, leased to the order by CRH. CRH took back the building and converted it into a modern head office around 1970.

The Legion of Christ was founded by Father Marcial Maciel in Mexico in the early forties. I met Maciel on numerous occasions - perhaps as often as 20 or 30 times. He seemed charismatic, funny and different. What I did not know at the time and would not learn for a further twenty years was that Maciel stands accused of molesting dozens of boys, his own seminarians, of living with two women and siring two families. It appears sadly the case that money and drugs were used and abused during his long life until he died in 2007.

When Maciel visited the seminary in Leopardstown he would arrive in a black, top of the range Peugeot and often dine in the Glenview Hotel. This in an Order that preached poverty chastity and obedience.

I left the Legion in the summer of 1976 after finishing first year studies in Rome, disillusioned with the Order's approach to mission and worried about the extraordinary high drop out rate - over 90% in many cases. I had remembered Oscar Wilde's comment about the misfortune of losing one parent.

I left the Legion in the Summer of 1976. I flew into Dublin on a hot July afternoon sweltering in an Aran Sweater. In September 1976 I joined Clonliffe College with a view to continuing my studies for the priesthood for the Dublin Dioceses. For the first year I was assigned the job of attending a Legion of Mary Group in Dominick Street - a very poor part of Dublin.

I was intrigued by the Legion of Mary. The coincidence of names did not strike me at the time. I asked for a meeting with the founder of the Legion of Mary, Frank Duff. I was granted a meeting without fuss within a few days. I have an abiding memory of Frank, a frail man in his eighties arrive at the centre on his black bicycle. I can still see the stooped man with the clear blue honest eyes, carefully take off his bicycle clips and stand the bike aginst the wall in his office. He gave me as much time as I wanted. I met him four times in total and typed my notes in duplicate on a typewriter with the money I had saved from working on the ferries for the summer. I gave a copy of the notes to the history department in Clonliffe. I hope the notes still survive to this day.

I no longer have any time for the Legion of Christ who to me and many others seemed interested only in money - all for the greater glory of God, no doubt. All I can say - be careful what you work with - much of it stains your fingers and nails. Even then I could not subscribe to the Legion of Mary which seemed quaint and from another era. But my admiration for Frank Duff has grown over the years and for the Legion of Mary.

Within a year I had encountered two very different Legions, but it took me almost thirty years to find the words and the perspective.

We men can be kind and wonderful. At times we can be incredibly stupid. When Lorraine and I first became friends I took her to both the Legion of Christ and to Clonliffe. Strange way to woo a girl, I suppose. Within five minutes she had worked out exactly the differences.

More women in the boardroom is all I can say and in the Church when we are at it.


  1. You are like a big Onion Padraic... lots of interesting layers to you! Loved reading this post and of course I totally agree with you about women - and anyway isnt God a woman? lol

    Have you ever read a book called The Shack - your Prodigal Son post reminded me of it. It is one of my favourite reads ever and with your spiritual bent I think you would love it too!

  2. Hi Barbara, I am not sure if God is a woman or a man. Cynics might argue he has made enough mistakes to be a man... Only joking. Must read the Shack. I must also read the 6 books I have borrowed from the library. Thanks for the suggestion. P