In August 1946 our family had to leave the town of Ziegenhals, in Salesia, due to the annexation of eastern Germany by Poland. We came to the north German diaspora town of Wilhelmshaven, on the North Sea which had been largely destroyed by aerial bombing during the war. As a consequence we had to live in barracks previously occupied by the military. Religious services were conducted by a Pallottine in what used to be a canteen.
The town was largely Protestant. However the Schoenstatt Family had already been active there for several years. Three of the diocese’s parish priests were members of the ‘Community of Schoenstatt Priests’. There was another Pallottine in the area apart from the one who celebrated Mass with us. He lived at the so-called ‘Marienheim’ belonging to the Marian Sisters and offered special pastoral activities for the area in the spirit of the Schoenstatt Movement.
As there was no youth group in Wilhelmshaven another high school student and myself were sent to Schoenstatt to attend a conference during the Easter break in 1950. Fr Finster sac gave the talks. He told us then that the Schoenstatt Movement wanted to realize the basic idea of Pallotti. He said that his own talks were not so important, but that the main thing for us would be to pray to the Mother of God in the shrine. Until then I had been a Christian out of habit. The situation in our small camp and the anti-Catholic prejudice of the diaspora were a great challenge to my faith. So I urgently prayed to the Mother of God for strength and inspiration. And I received it as a gift. On Easter Sunday we participated in Vespers at the Pallottine Seminary. There I met more than 120 Pallottine seminarians. This was a decisive encounter for me. I realized then in which direction my life should be heading after my matriculation.
On my return I became involved in promoting the youth work of the Schoenstatt Movement, aiming at the ‘Marian Christian formation of the world’. Every year we travelled on our bikes to Schoenstatt to participate in conferences conducted there by the Pallottine priests – Frs Finster, Klein and Brantzen.
When I entered the novitiate in Olpe I found out to my surprise that there were tensions between Pallottines and Schoenstatt. I had never heard of these before. I could not understand that the priests in Schoenstatt, through whom I learnt to esteem and love the Church, should have been disobedient towards the Church. But I was convinced through the talks our novice master gave us. Only then I found out about the novelty and greatness of the vision of Pallotti.
When it came to the separation of Pallottines and the Schoenstatt movement I was sad in a way but on the other hand I felt a bit liberated. The Schoenstatt apostolate in Wilhelmshaven had been very fruitful. But its special features, which determined the whole life of the parish, led to tensions and divisions. Now I saw the possibility to reach all people, to approach and inspire them.
After my ordination I would have liked to go to the missions. But my superiors indicated that I should do some special training in Canon Law, in which I had never had any interest. Although compelled to do further studies I would have preferred something pastoral. When I talked to Fr Gustav Vogel about this he told me that Canon Law was a very pastoral subject. I put forward my reservations but did not press the point. Looking back I see how God guided me and I am grateful.
In 1967 I started to lecture at our seminary in Vallendar and also at the University of Trier. But in order to be fully available for my involvement in the SAC and the Union I decided to terminate my service in Trier in 1990. As from 1993 I was able to work, together with our legal commission, on a legal commentary to the Law of the SAC which was completed in 1999.
At the same time I was able to take part in the endeavour to produce General Statutes for the Union, already strengthened by Vatican II, for approval by the Church. Work on these Statutes was carried out in a number of stages after the 150-year jubilee of the Union in 1985. The first draft, in seven languages, was sent to all members for comment.
Many of the comments and suggestions were incorporated and the document was presented to the Pontifical Council for the Laity (PLC) for approval. In their response the PLC asked us to explain why we did not rather approach the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of the Apostolic Life. I was privileged to participate in working through the reasons we had for this:
In this way, on October 23, 2003, we succeeded in achieving the official establishment of the Union and the provisional approbation of the General Statutes by the PLC.
During the Pallotti Triduum in 2004 the president of the PLC told us that the decree of October 2003 commits us to the Church in a way and to a degree which has never before been received by any Society:
“Start out, as a community and as individuals, with your view firmly on Jesus Christ, like Mary, the Queen of Apostles! Enrich and promote the Church with the extraordinary spiritual heritage which Pallotti entrusted to you! His charism contains undreamed of riches which have not been plumbed or made fertile completely by far. Make use of this opportunity which presents itself to you for the first time in your history! Doing this be faithful to the original vision of your founder, but at the same time open to the demands of the present!”
Ever since then I have been able to participate in all AGMs and meetings of the General Coordinating Council of the Union. At the ‘Hochschule’ I cared for the Union-group during their first years of establishment. This task has since been taken over by Fr Ulrich Scherer.
I am so grateful to God for that. Also that – despite my 83 years – I am now able to be of help as we reflect back to the original vision of the foundation of Pallotti and its insertion in the total mission of the Church. I am sorry that I am now able to do this only from my desk, in meetings and in prayer, because I have neither the time nor the energy to go to the peripheries of the Church in order to promote the message of our founder and to make it bear fruit.
The XX General Chapter of the Congregation of the Missionary Sisters of the Catholic Apostolate, after the re-election of Sr. Izabela Świerad SAC as Superior General, chose the other members of the General Council for the next six years on July 7, 2016 :
We congratulate them and wish that they offer their service with the joy and the conviction that the charism of St. Vincent Pallotti is a precious gift for the Church and for the world.