Marians Mark 20th Anniversary of Bl. George's Beatification
June 28 marks the 20th anniversary of the beatification of Bl. George Matulaitis-Matulewicz, known as the Marian Renovator, who secretly rescued the Marian Order from extinction.
Born in 1871 of peasant Lithuanian parents, Bl. George — whose motto was "to seek God in all things, to do all things for the greater glory of God" — remains a cherished and inspirational figure in the Marian community and the Church at large.
"The Holy Father John Paul II was very enthusiastic about Archbishop George's Beatification," writes Jan M. Rokosz, MIC, Superior General of the Marians, in a letter to his confreres dated June 28, 2007. "He wished to make it a gift to the Church on the 600th Anniversary of the Christening of Lithuania, celebrated in Rome. Several years before the fall of Communism, the Polish-born Pope fully realized that the celebration of this and of similar anniversaries could bring back from oblivion such communities, which were called at that time the 'Silent Church.'"
Indeed, Bl. George came of age knowing full well the struggles of living out the Faith under a harsh political climate.
His native land was under the domination of the Russian Czar. The Marian Order was on the verge of extinction. Nearly all Marian monasteries had been closed and confiscated.
Only one survived — the monastery at Mariampole in Lithuania. Government edict permitted the remaining religious to live out their days in the monastery, but no new candidates could be accepted. This amounted to a death sentence for the Marian Order.
George was born only five kilometers from Mariampole. By age 10, he was an orphan who had already come to know the Marians well. He wanted to become a Marian, and his heart bled to see their number gradually diminishing. He knew the risks and the dangers involved. But Fr. George felt inspired to revive the Order — even if in secret.
By 1908, there was one last surviving Marian living in Mariampole, Fr. Vincent Senkus-Sekowski. Humanly speaking, the end was near. But with Fr. Vincent, Fr. George discussed ways to revive the Marians. In July 1909, after prayer and consultation, he went to Rome to present the plan to Pope Pius X. He carried with him a letter of recommendation from Fr. Vincent with this heartfelt plea:
"… of all the Marians, I am the last survivor. All others have died. Since I am already an old man in frail health, it can safely be assumed that with my death the Marian Order will cease to exist — unless with the permission of the Apostolic See extraordinary measures are undertaken to remedy this situation."
In this letter, Fr. Vincent asked the Holy Father to dispense the Marians from wearing the monastic (white) habit, to allow Fr. George to make his religious profession without the necessary novitiate and to secretly accept new candidates. He gave reasons for eliminating these customary external signs of a Marian vocation — "because of persecution by the government we cannot function otherwise."
Pope Pius X gave his personal approval, encouragement and blessing. Thus began the great process of renewal of the Marians. With Fr. Vincent's passing in 1911, many thought the Marian Order ceased to exist. But in reality, the Order was just beginning a new phase.
At the time, Fr. George was working as a professor at the St. Petersburg Academy and secretly forming the Marian novitiate with three new novices. But it was not safe to live in Community in St. Petersburg. In order that the Marians could function and grow in freedom, Fr. George — who viewed reviving the Marians as his special mission in the Church — resigned from all his duties at the Academy and transferred the Marians to Switzerland.
Before his death in 1927, the number of Marians reached 240 and would continue to grow over the next several decades, becoming a community of more than 600 priests and brothers at the present time.
In addition to being responsible for the renewal of the Marian Order, Bl. George revised Constitutions for several religious communities. In Lithuania, he founded the Congregation of Sisters of the Immaculate Conception and in Belarus, the Sisters Servants of the Jesus in the Eucharist.
Blessed George also proved to be an outstanding bishop of Vilnius, as well as a skilled and capable diplomat as an archbishop at the service of the Vatican in Lithuania. Pope Pius XI, who knew Archbishop George Matulaitis, described him as "God's man" and "a truly holy man."
To the Congregation of the Marians, Bl. George bequeathed a spirit of continuous renewal and generous effort "for Christ and the Church." On his deathbed, where he reiterated his conviction that self-sacrifice is the way most Christians carry their cross, he urged Marians to "close up the ranks and sacrifice yourselves."
Father Jan, in his letter, writes that Bl. George "hadn't considered the development of our community as a goal in itself, but had placed above all, the goal of an ever more perfect ministry of service for the salvation of souls, which is inscribed in the salvific mission of the universal Church."
In his homily during the Holy Mass of Beatification on June 28, 1987, Pope John Paul II said of Bl. George: "For 56 years, he strove to be worthy of Christ. Thus, he took up his cross — and there were various crosses, which he had to take up and bear in those decisive times — therefore he took up these crosses and followed Christ. And he was ready — in many ways — to 'give up his life for Christ.' His words, his actions and his entire pastoral ministry give witness to this. He was not seeking himself, he did not wish to 'preserve his own life,' rather, he was ready to 'lose his life' on many occasions. Precisely through this, he found himself in the fullness of life, as much as a man is able to find life in Christ. Following Him, he also led others along the way of the Gospel — along the way which is the fruit and the consequence of Baptism 'in Christ.'"
The 20th anniversary of Bl. George's beatification comes at a time when the Marians are preparing for the beatification this September of Bl. Stanislaus Papczyński, who founded the Marians in 1673.
In his letter, Fr. Jan issues the following call to action for his fellow Marians: "Marians, elevated to the honors of the altar, are a great gift of God and of the Church. In this gift, we perceive a new affirmation for the road assigned to us by the Founder, the Renovator, and our Constitutions. The best way to show our gratitude would be to draw from this gift and to increase it. Marians, elevated to the honors of the altar, remind us that we are all called to holiness, just like they were, and that our way of life, is a call to 'lose our life' for Christ. We should not seek ourselves or to desire to 'preserve our own lives.' Instead, we ought to be ready to 'lose our life' many times over, in order to ultimately find it in its fullness, by finding life in Christ.”