Joseph Kentenich

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Joseph Kentenich
Kentenich sonrisa.jpg
Peter Joseph Kentenich

16 November 1885
Died15 September 1968 (aged 82)
Schoenstatt, Vallendar, Germany
Resting placeChurch of the Adoration, Vallendar, Germany
ReligionRoman Catholicism
SchoolPallottine College
ProfessionTheologian, educator
Military service
OrderSchoenstatt Movement Schoenstatt-logo.svg
Senior posting
Ordination8 July 1910
ProfessionTheologian, educator
Present postFounder and first Director of the Schoenstatt Movement; first Superior General of the Secular Institute of the Schoenstatt Fathers

Father Joseph Kentenich (b. 16 November,[1] 1885 – 15 September 1968) was a Pallottine priest and founder of the Schoenstatt Movement. He is also remembered as a theologian, educator and pioneer of a Catholic response to an array of modern issues, whose teachings underwent a series of challenges from political and ecclesiastical powers. He attempted to teach Christians how to live out their faith.

Considered by many of those who came into contact with him to have been a saint[who?], his case for sainthood is currently at the diocesan level in the Diocese of Trier, pending the compilation of his writings and correspondences.



He was born on 16 November 1885, in Gymnich, near Cologne,[2] and christened Peter Josef Kentenich 19 November at the parish church of St. Kuniberts. His mother was Katharina Kentenich, his father, Matthias Köp, a manager on a farm lived in Oberbolheim, where Katharina was one of the domestic staff. Because his parents were not married (and never married), Joseph was born in the house of his maternal grandparents, Anna Maria and Matthias Kentenich, where he spent the first years of his life.[3]

From the end of 1891 until the second half of 1892 Joseph lived with his mother in Strasbourg, where she worked as housekeeper for her elder brother, Peter Joseph, after his wife’s death on 25 December 1891. The boy attended a school there for a few months. After her brother remarried on 25 June 1892, Katharina and her son returned to Gymnich. Katharina had to look for a permanent job in order to support her child. Joseph Kentenich was sent to St. Vincent orphanage in Oberhausen on 12 April 1894.

Upon arrival, Catherine grips on the neck of a statue of Our Lady one of the few precious objects she owns: a gold chain with a cross; she asks the Mother of Jesus to take care from now the education of her son; then she puts the cross in Joseph's neck.[4]

Entrance in the Seminary[edit]

In 1897, Joseph for the first time expressed the wish to become a priest. Two years later, he entered the Pallottines Minor Seminary of Ehrenbreitstein. In 1904, he enters in the novitiate of the Pallottines in Limburg an der Lahn. In his diary, he formulates his spiritual journey, "God is my only goal, He must also be the star that guides my life." However, the novice faces great difficulties because of his intellectualist character. He is obsessed by the primary philosophical question: "Is there a truth, and how to know it?". He has a strong aspiration for perfection, but feels great insensitivity, a sort of incapacity to love God and his neighbor. Marian devotion allows him to overcome this crisis and discover the personal love that God, Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary have for him, a love that is not an abstract idea but a living reality.[4]


Kentenich newly ordained priest, on 8 July 1910

Admitted to religious profession in 1909, Joseph Kentenich was ordained priest in Limburg an der Lahn, on 8 July 1910.[2] Although he wished to become a missionary in Africa with the Pallottines, his poor health prevented him.

He was first a professor at the Minor Seminary of Ehrenbreistein. Then, from 1912 to 1919, Spiritual Director at the Minor Seminary of the Pallottine Fathers in Vallendar-Schoenstatt, near Koblenz (Germany), on the Rhine.[2] His charism of education manifested in the first years of his priesthood.


Indeed, a storm stirred the seminarians of Vallendar-Schoenstatt: students protest against the internal regulations that they consider too severe; protesters spread graffiti on the walls. Two priests in charge of their spiritual direction resign. Under this situation, a young Father, Joseph Kentenich, is named for replacing to try to restore confidence among the seminarians.

In his first talk, he says to his students: "I am at your disposal with all that I am and all that I have: my knowledge and my ignorance, my competence and my incompetence, but especially my heart... We will learn to educate ourselves under the protection of Mary, to become strong, free and priestly men."[4]

Founding of the Schoenstatt Movement[edit]

The beginning: the "Covenant of Love" with Mary[edit]

Kentenich with the Schoenstatt Marian Congregation, on 18 October 1914 (seated, the 4th from the right)

Fr. Kentenich interpreted the ideas of his order's founder, Vincent Pallotti, to be calling for a worldwide effort to involve lay people in apostolic work, and to unite the various factions in the Church.With some of his pupils, on 18 October 1914, Father Kentenich laid the first milestone of the foundation of the work of Schoenstatt. In an old chapel of St. Michael, formerly abandoned and used for the storage of the gardening tools, he gathers about twenty seminarians, where they seal with the Mother of God a covenant that he will call "Covenant of Love". What makes unique this approach is that this "Covenant" is conceived not as a pious symbol, but a bilateral contract between the two contracting parties. Moreover, through the voice of the young priest, the Holy Virgin is requested to kindly establish Her throne in the chapel to spread Her treasures. Each group member agrees to give up now entirely to the Mother of God, and to let themselves be guided by Her through their existence.[5] The group founds a Marian Congregation. This was the beginning and the lasting foundation of today’s worldwide development of the Schoenstatt Movement. This movement was named after its place of origin, a word meaning "Beautiful Place".[6] Indeed, deeply convinced about Mary's love for all men, he implored by prayer and sacrifice for that small chapel becomes a privileged place of grace and that it may attract multitudes of men and educate them for the work of God's Kingdom. The speech he delivered on this occasion is considered the Schoenstatt Movement's Foundation Act.[7]

The picture of the Mater Ter Admirabilis

The young seminarians grasped his intentions and testified by their spirit of sacrifice during the tough years of World War I. Some of them, amid the dangers of the front, sacrificed their lives for the cause of Schoenstatt. Among these, the Servant of God Joseph Engling is particularly distinguished: fervent seminarian, supporter of the peace between nations and an apostle among his fellow soldiers, he offers his life to the Our Lady for the development of Schoenstatt. On 4 October 1918, he is killed by a shell in Northern France,[4] next to Thun-Saint-Martin; the founder will present him as a model. His process of beatification is underway.

In 1915, a teacher gives to Father Kentenich a picture of the Virgin Mary with Her Child. Despite the low artistic value of the work, the founder is charmed by the tenderness of the gesture of Mary clutching Jesus on her heart; he places the picture above the altar. Revered as Mater Ter Admirabilis (Mother Thrice Admirable), she will be put in all the foundations of Schoenstatt. During the war, a magazine under the same patronage is sent to the youth who fight at the front.

Between WW I and WW II[edit]

The project, initially purely local, expanded rapidly after the World War I. It encompasses gradually, without preconceived plan, many categories; young people, priests, women, sisters, pilgrims. They are structured according to the German practical spirit, with leagues, federations and later with secular institutes, according to the degree of commitment of each of their members.

A retreat for priests preached by Fr. Kentenich in Schoenstatt

Father Kentenich travels through all Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia and Switzerland, to preach retreats and lead training sessions. From 1928 to 1935, he preaches every year for more than 2,000 priests, and many other lay retreatants.

In 1926, Father Kentenich founds the Schoenstatt Sisters of Mary.[6]

Fight against Nazism[edit]

Fr. Kentenich observes with concern the rise of Nazism, which he ranks among the products of what he calls "the idealistic and mechanistic thinking" that engulfed Europe since nineteenth century as an oil spill.

In 1933, when the Nazis take power in Germany and close religious houses one after the other, he doesn't take too much time to send groups of the Schoenstatt Sisters of Mary groups in South Africa, Brazil, Argentina, Chile and Uruguay to allow the Movement to survive for the case if the persecution of the Church in Germany got tougher.[8]

His opposition to Nazism attires persecution over him. Father Kentenich said about the swastika: "We, it is the Cross of the Christ that we follow.". About Nazism, he said, "I see no place where the water of baptism could run there".

On 20 September 1941 Fr Kentenich was arrested by the Gestapo in Koblenz and subsequently sent to Dachau concentration camp.[3] He spent over 3 years in the camp, where he became a support for many, especially among the priests, and according to firsthand accounts, he guided many prisoners to show compassion, to be good men even in the midst of certain death. In Dachau, new branches of the Schoenstatt Movement, including its first international and family branches, were founded.

Arrested by Gestapo[edit]

Once in power, the Nazis are quick to classify Schoenstatt among the main opponents to destroy. After endless vexations, on 20 September 1941, Father Kentenich is summoned by Gestapo; we quote one of his words, pronounced in private, but reported by an informer: "My mission is to reveal the inner emptiness of National Socialism, and by there to defeat it." The police imprisons the religious a month in a cell without ventilation, in order to break his resistance.[4] It is a small massive concrete cell without any opening than the door. The "Secret State Police" brakes the toughest there. Father Kentenich is kept for four weeks in this dark and airless bunker, which was before the vault of a branch of the Reichsbank.[8] He leaves physically debilitated, but calm and peaceful as at the entry.[5] He is then transferred to a prison in Koblenz, a former Carmelite convent. He spent there 5 months. Then it is hell of Dachau.

Sent to the Dachau concentration camp[edit]

Fr. Kentenich at the Dachau concentration camp (the 2nd, from the right)

In March 1942, Father Kentenich is sent to the Dachau concentration camp, at the moment where the living conditions there are worsening. Of the 12,000 prisoners, there are 2,600 priests. He is the inmate n. 29392.[9] The Germans are grouped in a block where they have the right to attend daily Mass celebrated by one of them; it is only on 19 March 1943 that Father Kentenich will finally celebrate his first Mass at the camp. He gives each night a spiritual conference to his fellow prisoners thanks to the protection of the “capo” (inmate block chief) Guttmann, a Communist with a rather violent temper, but fascinated by the behavior of the Father: he saw Kentenich sharing his meager daily bread and soup with a detainee in need. Guttmann will save the life of the founder of Schoenstatt, destined to die in the gas chamber because of his poor health: the day of the selection visit by an S.S. physician, the capo hides Father Kentenich; assigned to the disinfection commando, he can now circulate in the camp.[4]

Foundation of Schoenstatt International at Dachau[edit]

On 16 July 1942 are created at Dachau two new Schoenstatt branches, under the responsibility of two lay deported: the Secular Institute of the Families and the Institute of the Brothers of Mary. Transferred into various blocks, Kentenich restarts every time his apostleship despite the personal risk he incurs. Over the last three months of 1944, the tightening of the Nazi regime and epidemics cause the death of 10,000 prisoners in Dachau. It is at this point that, in a surprising act of faith full of hope, in the middle of this hellish place, Father Kentenich founds with a group of disciples the International Movement which extends the foundation of Schoenstatt to the world. He writes under unimaginable material conditions and at the peril of his life, treaties of spirituality, prayers and a didactic poem of over 20,000 verses.[10] In December, Bishop Gabriel Piguet, a French prisoner, ordains priest in the greatest secrecy Blessed Karl Leisner, a seminarian from Schoenstatt. Suffering from tuberculosis and very weakened, he will celebrate only one Mass before dying; he will be beatified by John Paul II on 23 June 1996.[4]

On 6 April 1945, at the arrival of the American troops, the prisoners are released. On 20 May, at the feast of Pentecost, Father Kentenich returns to Schoenstatt. He immediately restarts his work; he wants to establish a barrier against those whom he considers the biggest dangers to the world: communism in the East, practical materialism in the West. The experience of deportation will help him teach his disciples on how to maintain inner freedom. Fathers Albert Eise and Franz Reinisch, two martyrs from Schoenstatt, the first dead by disease in Dachau, the second executed by the Nazis, will be invoked as heavenly protectors by all members of the Movement.

International development of his work[edit]

In March 1947, Father Kentenich is received in private audience by Pope Pius XII. He thanks the Pope for the publication, two days earlier, of the constitution Provida Mater Ecclesia, which created the Secular Institutes.

One of the more than 200 Schoenstatt Shrines in the world

In October 1948, the Holy See erects in a Secular Institute the Schoenstatt Sisters of Mary. At the same time, the Founder travels to Brazil, Chile, Argentina and Uruguay, the United States and Africa to establish the Movement there, with the construction of replicas of the Schoenstatt Shrine, training centers and religious houses.


However, opposition continue to grow against the Movement whose solidity and extension engender jealousy. They do not focus on points of doctrine, but primarily on terms used in certain prayers and the role of the founder, deemed too exclusive. The Bishop of Trier, in whose diocese is located Schoenstatt, orders a canonical visitation. In the overall the Visitor's report appraises the Movement, however making some minor criticisms to which Father Kentenich is invited to reply. He feels obliged to raise the debate by writing a long document on the work of Schoenstatt which is presented as a cure for the disease of Western thought, idealism.[4]

For Kentenich, Schoenstatt can be an antidote to this poison, because it is not an abstract theory but a practical application of Christian doctrine. However, his long advocacy upsets the Apostolic Visitor, who sends the file to the Holy Office in Rome. In 1951, Father Tromp, a Dutch Jesuit, is appointed Apostolic Inspector with extensive powers. Baffled by the unconventional terminology used by Father Kentenich, he holds him for an agitator, an innovator and even a sectarian. After been stripped of all his functions in the Movement, Kentenich has assigned residence in the convent of Pallottines in Milwaukee (United States); all correspondence with the leaders of the work is prohibited.

More than three decades later, when witnesses were examined for the cause of Fr. Kentenich's beatification, a 78-year-old priest still in office declared, "Kentenich never received any official act of indictment. There was no official lawyer and he was never brought before a judge, much less faced a complainant or a witness." His exile lasted fourteen years. However, Joseph Kentenich accepts the punishment and writes: "God does not speak clearly by events? The Church wants to test our obedience, to recognize that if the work and the holder of the work are marked by God."

In 1959, Father Kentenich is appointed as parish priest of the German speaking Catholic community of Milwaukee, which has many immigrants from that nation. "He spoke about the Heavenly Father, will say some of his parishioners, as we had never heard anyone do it."[11]

In 1953, Pope Pius XII, to whom someone suggests this measure, refuses to dissolve Schoenstatt. The status of the Movement arises: should it be integrated into the Congregation of the Pallottines or have its autonomy? The superiors of the Order advocate the first option, but other Pallottines think with Father Kentenich that Schoenstatt should be fully autonomous under penalty of wither. In 1962, under the intervention of several bishops, John XXIII entrusts the case to the Congregation for Religious.[7]

Fr. Kentenich at his arrival in Schoenstatt after the exile

Return from exile and re-establishment to office[edit]

In December 1963, Pope Paul VI appoints the Bishop Höffner, from Münster, as moderator and protector of Schoenstatt. A new apostolic visitor is appointed, which delivers a favorable report. In 1964, under the unanimous opinion of the German bishops, a papal decree declares the separation of Schoenstatt from the Pallottines.

In October 1965, Father Kentenich is reinstated at the Direction of the Movement. Now in his eighties, he is received by Paul VI a few days after the closing of Second Vatican Council. He will predict that the council "will bear fruit, but will have first negative effects, because of the uncertainty of large sections of the hierarchy, clergy and laity about the image of the Church... This uncertainty can be overcome by turning our eyes to Mary, the first image and Mother of the Church.[4]

His last actions in Schoenstatt: a father to many[edit]

On the Christmas of 1965, Father Kentenich, whose face is now adorned with a long white beard, is enthusiastically welcomed at Schoenstatt. His work now includes five secular institutes: the Schoenstatt Fathers, the Diocesan Priests, the Brothers of Mary, the Sisters of Mary, the Ladies of Schoenstatt and the Families. This without counting the several Federations and Leagues gathering priests, lay people and families. The founder now devotes his strength to exert before all his spiritual fatherhood.

An influential theology in the years after the council demanded an "adult faith", the autonomy of the individual, the application of the democratic principle in the Church. In opposition to these ideas in fashion, Father Kentenich stresses the fatherhood of God and that of the priesthood in the Church, especially the episcopate. Originated from charity, the fatherhood is also the principle of authority, and implies obedience. The motherly presence of Mary is another essential point of the Movement; the practical way to live it is the covenant of love with the Mother Thrice Admirable.[4]

Over the last three years of his life, despite his advanced age, Fr. Kentenich worked zealously to the internal development of the Movement. By his several conferences, he took a clear position facing the confusion of certain theological doctrines and the crisis of authority in the Church.[7]

View of the Adoration Church, where Fr. Kentenich is buried

In a speech at the annual conference of German Catholics in 1967, Father Kentenich said: "We are living in apocalyptic times... Heavenly and devilish powers clash in this earth... This confrontation is to challenge the domination of the world; today this is clearly visible." The solution is to appeal to the Virgin Mary, "favorite weapon in the hands of the living God".[4]

Death: Dilexit Ecclesiam[edit]

During his last year on earth, this year in 1968 marked by the rebellious spirit in the Church and in the world, Fr. Kentenich constantly returns to this theme: "The task of Mary is to bring Christ to the world and the world to Christ... We are convinced that the great crises of the present times cannot be overcome without Mary" (12 September 1968).[4]

In 15 September 1968, in the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows, Father Kentenich celebrates Mass in the recently inaugurated Church of Adoration, newly consecrated on the heights of Schoenstatt. Six hundred Sisters of Mary attended the ceremony. Back in the sacristy for the thanksgiving prayer just after Mass,he suddenly has a heart attack; he receives the last sacraments and expires minutes later.[4]

Fr. Kentenich's tomb in the Adoration Church's sacristy

His mortal remains are in the place where he gave his last breath. On his tomb figure, according to his wish, the inscription: "Dilexit Ecclesiam" (He loved the Church; Eph 5:25), influenced by the same inscription graved on the tomb of Cardinal Gaspard Mermillod, bishop of Geneva (Switzerland) in the 19th century and exiled from his own country during more than eleven years for refusing to adhere to a national church separated from Rome.

The process for his beatification was opened on 10 February 1975. When some of Fr. Kentenich's supporters greeted Pope John Paul II with the words, “Canonize Father Kentenich!” he smiled and returned, “YOU canonize him!” implying that canonization is not to be seen as merely a bureaucratic process, but an acclamation of a heroic, virtuous person by the people. To this day, devotion to Joseph Kentenich is spreading and awareness of his contributions to educational, philosophical, theological, social, and other thought are being translated and disseminated.

Life-size sculptures of Father Kentenich, created by American artist Gwendolyn Gillen, now stand outside Schoenstatt chapels in Pewaukee, Wisconsin, Rome and Puerto Rico.[12]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ According to the book “Die verborgenen Jahre” Kentenich was born on 16 November, but 18 November is his commemoration day
  2. ^ a b c "The Founder: Fr. Joseph Kentenich", Schoenstatt Apostolic Movement Archived 4 December 2012 at the Wayback Machine
  3. ^ a b "Peter Joseph Kentenich's Childhood",
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m "Letter of 8 April 2014". Abbey of Saint-Joseph de Clairval. 8 April 2013. Retrieved 10 May 2018.
  5. ^ a b "Le Père Joseph Kentenich - Spiritualité Chrétienne". Retrieved 30 January 2016.
  6. ^ a b "Our Founder", Schoenstatt Sisters of Mary Archived 9 January 2013 at the Wayback Machine
  7. ^ a b c "Le Père Joseph Kentenich 02 - Spiritualité Chrétienne". Retrieved 30 January 2016.
  8. ^ a b Feldmann, Christian (2007). Joseph Kentenich, fondateur du Mouvement de Schoenstatt. Bruyères-le-Châtel: Nouvelle Cité. p. 122. ISBN 9782853135313.
  9. ^ Feldmann, Christian (2007). Joseph Kentenich, fondateur du Mouvement de Schoenstatt. Bruyères-le-Châtel: Nouvelle Cité. p. 148. ISBN 9782853135313.
  10. ^ Those writings, named "Heavenwards", can be read at .
  11. ^ Feldmann, Christian (2007). Joseph Kentenich, fondateur du Mouvement de Schoenstatt. Bruyères-le-Châtel: Nouvelle Cité. pp. 170–171. ISBN 9782853135313.
  12. ^ Collins, Bob (1 February 2017). "Gwen Gillen was much more than the Mary Tyler Moore statue". Minnesota Public Radio. Retrieved 27 February 2017.

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