History of the Legion

Simple Beginnings

The Founder of the Legion, Servant of God Frank Duff, was born on June 7, 1889 in Dublin, Ireland. As an eldest child, he was sent to the best day schools, and he used this education to build a twenty-six year career in the civil service, an experience which allowed him to become familiar with the way in which organizations were run.

Apart from his secular career, however, Br. Duff was deeply committed to his faith. He joined the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in 1913 at the age of 24, which helped him develop a particular interest in serving the needs of the poor and those who had no one to care for them. He joined another group called the Pioneers some time later, which – unlike the Society of St. Vincent de Paul at the time – was open to women as well as men.

It was at a meeting of the Pioneer Council, in fact, that Br. Duff first introduced the concept of the Legion itself. In 1921, the Pioneer Council was meeting monthly in a modest apartment in Myra House, which is located on Francis Street in an old and poor section of Dublin. After the Pioneer Council meetings, Br. Duff would give informal talks about Marian spirituality, particularly St. Louis Marie de Montfort’s True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin. And, on the evening of September 7 – the First Vespers of the feast of Our Lady’s Nativity – Br. Duff developed these informal spiritual talks into the first meeting of the Legion of Mary.

If you have ever had the opportunity to visit a meeting of the present-day Legion of Mary, you may have found at least one aspect of this original meeting quite familiar. Even in its infancy, the Legion set its altar almost identically to the way it does today, with a statue of the Immaculate Conception set on a white cloth, flanked by two lighted candles and two vases of flowers.

The group that had gathered around this Legionary altar – Br. Frank Duff, fifteen young women, and their spiritual advisor, Fr. Michael Toher – recited the invocation and prayer to the Holy Spirit as well as the Rosary. After doing so, they discussed among themselves “how they could best please God and make Him loved in His world.”

The program that they proposed, like their altar, had much in common with the Legion as it presently exists. Their first legionary work would be to console the poor at one of Dublin’s almshouses, focusing primarily on the women patients. They decided that these visitations should be both friendly and devotional, and they should all be willing to listen patiently to the concerns of those who they visited.

At the same time, they understood that organization would be necessary to ensure that the visits happened regularly. They drew upon the format of the St. Vincent de Paul Society for that purpose, instituting a weekly meeting in which they would pray, listen to a spiritual talk, and hear reports from each member on the work they had done the previous week. Unlike the St. Vincent de Paul Society, however, they decided that their apostolate would be dedicated to Mary, inspired by the teachings of St. Louis Marie de Montfort.

The early visitations of the Legion – then called the Association of Our Lady of Mercy – were immediately fruitful. Four years after its work began, in November of 1925, the Legion adopted its current name as the Legion of Mary.

Through the grace of God and the intercession of Our Lady, the Legion has continued to be fruitful ever since its foundation. Currently, 170 different countries host praesidia of the Legion of Mary.

Furthermore, no fewer than three individual Legionaries have had the Cause introduced for their Beatification. One of these is, of course, our Founder, Servant of God, Br. Frank Duff. The other two were envoys for the Legion: Venerable Edel Quinn, who was Envoy to East Africa, and Servant of God, Alfie Lambe, who was Envoy to South America. In fact, one could say that the Legion has a way of making saints:


Further Reading:

Thanks to its worldwide presence, the history of the Legion contains a rich and varied patchwork of stories of growth in different nations and cultures. Learn how the Legion expanded throughout the world without losing its special character and drive here:

Any attempt to tell the story of the Legion without reference to Our Blessed Mother’s intercession throughout Church history would be incomplete. Learn the story of the Miraculous Medal, Our Lady of Guadalupe, Our Lady of Fatima, and more here:

The Legion is ultimately based on Jesus. Our incorporation into Him by Baptism, our meditation on His life and His message, and our imitation of Jesus (through imitation of His mother) provide the Legion with its reason for being. Reflect on the simple yet powerful story of Jesus here:

The Legion today is the largest lay organization in the world. In spite of its size and cultural diversity, however, the Legion maintains a striking consistency — wherever legionaries gather, they hold the same meetings and rely on the same handbook (which has been translated into every major language). Learn more about the heroic and varied works of the Legion of today here:

Thanks in part to the richness of Rhode Island culture, the Legion of Mary in Rhode Island reflects the immense variety of the Legion worldwide. In fact, many Rhode Island legionaries hold meetings in the language of their native cultures. Our Spanish Curia oversees the meetings and works of many Spanish-speaking legionaries. Other legionaries hold meetings in Portuguese. Learn more about the works of Rhode Island legionaries, which cover every aspect of the Church that can be handled by laypeople, here:

Finally, you might wish to consider the deep fundamental reasons for the Legion listed here: