Frank Duff: Founder of the Legion of Mary & Champion of the Rosary

The Servant of God Frank Duff (1889-1980) was born into a wealthy family in Dublin, Ireland, in 1889. During his youth, he was hit in the ear by a cricket ball; consequently, his hearing was impaired in that ear for the rest of his life. At the age of 24, he became aware of the extreme poverty of many people in the cities of Ireland and tried to make a difference by serving the poor in Dublin through the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. This charitable work gave him a desire to lead a more devout Christian life. As a result, he started to attend two Masses a day beginning in 1914, and continued this practice for the rest of his life.

With his dear friend Venerable Edel Quinn, Duff became a pioneer of lay involvement in apostolic works. He greatly encouraged the Catholic laity to strive for sanctity and engage in charitable works. He was so well respected for his contributions to the apostolate of the laity that Bl. Pope Paul VI invited him to attend the Second Vatican Council as a lay observer. During the final session of the Council, the entire assembly of bishops from around the world stood and gave Frank Duff a standing ovation in recognition of his tremendous work. In his zeal to help souls experience the freedom that the truths of Catholicism bring, he was miraculously able to help bring about the conversion of almost the entire red-light district in Dublin, especially the area associated with prostitution. He was very devoted to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Frank Duff lived to be 91 years old, dying on a First Friday.

Marian Devotion

Frank Duff: Founder of the Legion of Mary & Champion of the Rosary

Servant of God Frank Duff

In 1917, the same year that Our Lady appeared in Fatima and St. Maximilian founded the Militia Immaculatae, Frank Duff read St. Louis de Montfort’s True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin. He had overheard a few men discussing the book and became interested in acquiring a copy himself. When he found a first edition of the English translation in a bookstore, he purchased it. At first, he did not understand the book due to its depth and lofty Marian expressions, but, after reading it half a dozen times, he finally got it.

This devotion set his soul aflame. He understood that Mary was not just another saint and member of the Church, but the greatest of all saints and the very heart of the mystery of Christianity. From this point on, he began to teach everyone that if they did not understand Mary, they were incapable of understanding Christianity.

 

As a result of his fervent devotion to Our Lady, he founded the Legion of Mary on September 7, 1921. Having been greatly influenced himself by the writings of St. Louis de Montfort, Duff established that the Legion was to be very Montfortian in its Marian devotion and piety. The purpose and goal of the Legion was to assist Mary, the Mediatrix of All Grace, in the spiritual combat perpetually waged between the Church and the powers of darkness. He named his organization the Legion of Mary because he viewed it as an army of the Mother of God, championing the cause of her divine Son. Through this army’s use of prayer and apostolic works, he wanted the Legion to help the Church bring all souls to Jesus through Mary. It would prove to be an extremely fruitful Marian apostolate during the 20th century, with members in almost every diocese in the world.

Blessed Pope Paul VI described the Legion of Mary as the greatest movement to help souls since the establishment of the great mendicant religious orders in the 16th century! It was so effective at bringing about conversions to Christ and spread so quickly to every part of the globe that Mao Tse-tung, the Communist leader and father of the People’s Republic of China, referred to the Legion of Mary as “Public Enemy Number One.”

Champion of the Rosary

A devoted son of the Church, Frank Duff spent at least four hours a day in prayer. On most days, he would even sacrifice his lunch break to spend an hour in prayer. The rosary was always part of his daily prayer routine. He was very fond of recommending the daily rosary to everyone he met. He had a unique understanding of the rosary, saying it is the “prime devotion to the Holy Spirit.” What he meant was that when a person prays the rosary, they are immediately overshadowed by the Holy Spirit, since Mary is the Spouse of the Holy Spirit and can never be separated from her spouse. This dimension of his thought is quite fascinating, since people rarely associate devotion to the Holy Spirit with the recitation of the rosary. In the mind of Frank Duff, the rosary opens up hearts to the workings of the Holy Spirit because in the rosary we celebrate and remember the principal interventions of the Holy Spirit in the drama and mysteries of salvation.

The largest Marian association in the world, the Legion of Mary is made up of small local groups called “Praesidiums.” This terminology comes from the Roman technique of protecting a particular area by maintaining a fortified garrison or military line. A Legion of Mary Praesidium conducts apostolic works and meets weekly to pray. Frank Duff mandated that each Praesidium pray the rosary as part of their weekly prayer meeting. He also encouraged each member to join the Confraternity of the Rosary.

Frank Duff always stressed that the rosary is the core of the Legion of Mary’s spirituality. As such, he desired that the rosary be prayed with dignity and respect. He did not want it prayed too quickly or in a chaotic fashion, but rather, with a meditative rhythm. He particularly emphasized that those praying the second half of the Hail Mary were not to start before the person praying the first half of the Hail Mary had said the Holy Name of Jesus. Duff considered the rosary to be so essential to the Legion of Mary that, when he wrote the Legion of Mary handbook, he said that what breathing is to the human body, the rosary is to the Legion of Mary.

Rosary Gems

The rosary was established about the year 1200 and it took from the first minute. It was proposed to people and they were encouraged to use it. It proved itself to have an affinity for the people. Ever since, it has been intertwined with Catholic life. It has been prominent in devotional literature; an element in the lives of the holy ones of the Church; the subject of the teachings of the Popes and the Doctors. The rosary has been carried by Our Lady in many of the accepted apparitions. It has entered into many of the recorded miraculous events, some of which have saved the world. It is believed to have been responsible for innumerable favors. I wonder has there been any saint since the 13th century who did not use it?

~ Servant of God Frank Duff

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Anyone who says the rosary will have a reasonably complete and vivid idea of the Christian narrative.

~ Servant of God Frank Duff

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If the rosary be hurt [neglected], Mary’s place will be diminished and so will the quantity of prayer in our lives.

~ Servant of God Frank Duff

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The rosary is a prayer which fits itself to changing circumstances. At times of sickness or of exhaustion, there is no other so useful.

~ Servant of God Frank Duff

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As we say the rosary, we try to stage the mysteries before our minds. However meager our powers to meditate, we cannot help learning all those mysteries. They expand into so many “photographic” situations, linking themselves up with the various pictures we have seen or the accounts which we have heard or read of those events. We may be sure too that grace takes hold of that “picturisation,” intensifies it and renders it fruitful.

~ Servant of God Frank Duff

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Every word of the rosary is a prayer to God.

~ Servant of God Frank Duff

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The rosary counteracts any tendency to relegate her [Mary] to a sub-compartment in the Christian life.

~ Servant of God Frank Duff

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26 Champions of the Rosary

Learn about other Champions of the Rosary in this exciting book.

The rosary should be recited reverently.

~ Servant of God Frank Duff

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The rosary is irreplaceable.

~ Servant of God Frank Duff

Editor’s note: To learn more about other champions of the rosary, see Fr. Calloway’s 26 Champions of the Rosary at FatherCalloway.com. Also, listen to our interview with Fr. Calloway about St. Joseph here or on your favorite podcast app. 

Fr. Donald Calloway, MIC

By

Fr. Donald Calloway, MIC, has been a priest for 15 years and currently serves as Vicar Provincial and Vocation Director for the Congregation of Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception. He is the author of eleven books, a popular speaker at conferences, and frequently leads pilgrimages to Marian shrines around the world. To find out more about his books and pilgrimages, go to www.fathercalloway.com

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