Photo: Felix Carroll
Dedicated to 'Father Renovator'
Coinciding with the 25th anniversary of the beatification of a pivotal figure in the history of the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception, the Marians this week launched a website dedicated to him: matulaitis-matulewicz.org.
Blessed George Matulaitis-Matulewicz (1871-1927) is known by the Marians as "Father Renovator." Through him, God rescued the Marian Congregation from extinction during the turbulent times of the early 20th century.
In the following Q&A, we speak with Br. Andrew Maczynski, MIC, who led efforts to create this new website. Brother Andrew serves as general promoter of the Association of Marian Helpers and the vice-postulaor for the Marian canonization causes in North America and Asia. He lives in Stockbridge, Mass., home of the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy.
Why the new website?
The main reason is that, up until now, little information was available on the web on Blessed George in any language. Nowadays, without a web presence, it's as if you don't exist. We believe, by all means, people should have the opportunity to gain easy access to information about him — his life, his writings, photographs, and his achievements. Twenty-five years ago, on June 28, Blessed John Paul II beatified Father Renovator in St. Peter's Basilica. We are thankful for Blessed George, and this is one significant way we can show our gratitude — by introducing him to the world.
For those who know nothing about Blessed George, why is he such an important figure for the Marian Congregation?
Well, the short answer is that he's the reason we still exist, because God used him to be our renovator. We look to the man as the one who saved the order. This was back in 1909 when there was only one Marian remaining in the entire community. We were on the verge of extinction because of the political upheaval going on in central and eastern Europe as well in Portugal and Italy. It wasn't just the Czar in Russia who came down on religious freedom, but also Napoleon and an unfriendly government in Portugal. It all happened the same period of time. Meanwhile, at great personal risk, Blessed George took his religious vows in secrecy in 1909. From that point on, he worked underground and gathered men of good will and zeal for the Lord. Hundreds of men were drawn to the Marians inspired by Blessed George. They worked in secrecy until the end of World War I. Blessed George brought the charism of the Marians to a new generation to serve a world desperately in need of the Gospel.
On June 28, 1987, Blessed George was beatified by Pope John Paul II in St. Peter's Basilica. The Pope spoke of him as a special gift for the Church. Why is he an important figure for the Church at large?
His openness to laity. His conviction that the Marians should invite laity to be cooperators in their apostolate. That was something rather unusual at the time. He was accused of being too modern and too liberal in making the laity partners rather than "subjects." He was really going ahead of his time by decades. The Second Vatican Council, decades later, recognized this need for the laity as cooperators. In that sense, he was among a small group who can be considered pioneers. In a sense, too, he was the spiritual founder of the Association of Marian Helpers through whose prayers and financial contributions have brought the Lord's message of mercy and devotion to Mary Immaculate to literally millions of people around the world. He also called for a more international and more ecumenical approach to the Marians' missionary work. He was a champion for the efforts to permit the faithful to worship God in their own language, especially as bishop of Vilnius.
In working on the website, was there anything you learned about Blessed George that you hadn't learned before?
Not really. He's been an important figure to me ever since I first took vows in the Marian Congregation, and even before. But what's interesting is that this past spring, when I went to Lithuana for a meeting of the Association of Marian Helpers, I got hold of a bunch of photographs that were stored in government–run archives. Some of these are photographs we had never seen before. That was a big discovery. You can find many of them on the new website.
The photographs we often see of him show a man who looks pretty serious and stern. Is that the same man people will discover when they view these newly unearthed photos?
Well, part of what's so exciting about having these photographs is that they show a side of him we don't often see. He smiles! That's a rarity because in those days it wasn't customary to smile in photographs. You were supposed to be very serious.
We Marians today truly feel his presence in our lives and in our ministry, and I hope through the website people will be drawn to his zeal and his spirituality, which are as impressive and inspiring today as they were 100 years ago.
The Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception invite you to visit our new website dedicated to Blessed George Matulaitis-Matulewicz.