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In 2008, Marian novices study the life and times of Blessed George Matulaitis-Matulewicz, including his Journal.
Typically, it goes something like this: Men join the Marians having never heard of Blessed George Matulaitis-Matulewicz (1871-1927). Then, up in a third-floor classroom at the Marian Scholasticate in Washington, D.C., they take a crash course on the life and spirituality of the man who, a century ago, saved the Marian Congregation from extinction.
Maybe, at first, they feel intimidated by his name (Blessed George who?) or by his visage (in formal portraits, he strikes an imposing figure, with a heavy brow and with piercing eyes that follow you across the room).
A Course on Blessed George
But then these future Marian priests and brothers open up his 368-page Journal — filled with trumpet blasts of inspiration and rallying cries for renewal — and they understand why Blessed George's portrait is given prominent placement in every Marian residence around the world. They also understand why his Journal is required reading and why he's the model for the modern Marian.
"If I may ask, Lord," Blessed George writes in one of his many highly quotable passages, "let me be but a dishrag in Your Church, a rag used to wipe up messes and then thrown away into some dark corner. I want to be used up and worn out in the same way so that your house may be a little cleaner and brighter. And afterwards, let me be thrown away like a dirty, worn-out dishrag."
After a four-to-six week crash course in Blessed George, the novices are never the same again.
"When we think about what it means to be a Marian, we look to Blessed George," says Fr. Mark Baron, MIC, house superior in Washington, D.C., and novice master who leads the course on Blessed George. "We seek to live in his spirit."
A 'Father' Figure
The novices also read about how 100 years ago, amidst an age of religious tyranny and toxic political upheaval, the Lithuanian native whom they affectionately call Father Renovator set about to restore the Marian Congregation, which had dwindled down to one man. Blessed George rewrote the Marian Constitutions, inspired to take the Congregation founded in 1673 by Blessed Stanislaus Papczynski and make it flourish in contemporary times.
He gathered seminarians. He laid the groundwork for the growth of the Congregation, which today includes more than 500 priests and brothers serving in 19 countries. Knowing the Marian religious could not bring the Gospel to every home without working together with the laity, he established in seed form what is now known as the Association of Marian Helpers. He also served as a bishop and an archbishop.
All the while, Blessed George suffered from tuberculosis of the bone. And all the while, he conducted himself in a spirit "more like the father of a family," as Fr. Marian Wisniewski, MIC, a novice under Blessed George, wrote. Indeed, Blessed George remains a father figure today for those who are the fruits of his labor — namely, the Marian seminarians who open that green Journal expecting it to be a chore but discovering in it a spiritual treasure.
"The first thing you realize is that he's a father, loving and approachable, and we're his spiritual sons," says Br. Richard Mary Dolan, MIC. "As a son, you want to do something for him just out of the sheer love you receive and feel from him."
That "something," says Br. Richard, "is to say the same yes Mary and Blessed George did, to seek God in all things, to be a vessel of God's mercy with humility, zeal, and gentleness."
'Out of Love for Christ'
Brother Thaddaeus Lancton, MIC, admits he had never heard of Blessed George before joining the Marians. Now he wakes in the morning to a portrait of Blessed George staring straight back at him from a mantle.
Brother Thaddaeus says he imagines Blessed George inquiring of him each morning: "What will bring God glory today?"
"Blessed George has supported me much on my Marian journey," Br. Thaddaeus says. "I remember in his Journal how he wrote that once he undertook to live his priesthood as a religious, many new offers were given to him. But out of love for Christ, he denied them all to remain poor, obedient, and chaste. He helps me to realize it is not how much good I do, but how much I conform to the Sacred Heart of Christ. All else flows from the life of prayer, which he modeled."
"He was Pope-quality," says newly professed Br. David Blasland, MIC.
"He was JP II before JP II," says Br. Richard, referring to Pope John Paul II. "Like JP II, he was a vessel of God but also very approachable and warm."
"He was Vatican II before there was Vatican II," says newly professed Br. Steve Ybarra, MIC. "Like Vatican II did decades later for the Church, he prepared the Marians to be involved in the modern world, to show people how they can attain holiness and still be part of what's going on in the world."
Indeed, as Br. Jim McCormack, MIC, notes, Blessed George taught the Marians how to be "contemplatives in action. That is," says Br. Jim, "being constantly in touch with God, while living zealous and active lives of ministry."
Brother Jim's copy of the Journal contains yellow Post-It notes marking favorite passages. He has written notes to himself in the white margins. Many passages inspire him, but Br. Jim is particularly struck with examples of Blessed George's perseverance in the face of turmoil, his gentle concern for the welfare of others, and how he combines his zeal with prudence in determining the best ways to serve Christ and the Church.
"Blessed George spent his life seeking the best ways to bring the greatest glory to God," says Br. Jim. "We Marians today see it as our great task to try to follow his example — to be the spiritual sons of Blessed George."
To support our Marian seminarians who are inspired in their vocation by Blessed George, please visit our Ways of Helping web page. Also, please keep all them in your prayers to persevere in their vocation.
This article was first published in the Fall 2009 issue of Marian Helper magazine. Sign up to receive a free copy of the latest Marian Helper.