Korean Devotion to the Legion of Mary

Founded 7 September 1921 in Dublin, Ireland. Established in USA in 1933. Now a worldwide organization of the Lay Apostolate.

Concilium – world headquarters in Dublin, Ireland.
Senatus – regional group that supervises Legion of Mary in parts of the country.
Comitium – oversees a diocese with more than two Curiae.
Curia – supervises several praesidia in a smaller area like a diocese or part of a diocese.
Praesidium – a parish unit of the legion of Mary with 5-20 members.

+Since there are so many Korean legionaries in the United States, interest is naturally peaked in knowing a little more about the country named Korea. In a country where there are less than 4 million Catholics it is extraordinary that legionaries number about 162,000. most parishes would have 20 to 30 presidia. In comparison, most parishes in United States could barely maintain one praesidium per parish. The Korean parishioners are involved in all aspects of the apostolate with particular emphasis on evangelization. They invite people to come to instruction classes, nurture them through their catechumenate and are sponsors at Baptism. Many converts immediately join the Legion and so they are immediately introduced to the apostolate.

Here are a few interesting facts about the history of the Catholic Church in Korea. The Catholic faith was introduced there only two centuries ago. Korean Catholics are very proud of the fact that the Church was founded there, not by foreign missionaries, but by their own lay people; something unique in the annals of the Church. In 1779 some envoys who visited Peking got a gift of books, one of which was entitled, “introduction to the Catholic Religion.” A group of scholars studied this book and became so convinced that this was the true faith that they set up their own “Faith Community’ in 1784.

Because a priest could not get into the country, one of their members went to Peking to be baptized and he baptized others, and so their numbers grew. When the first priest reached them eleven years later, he was amazed to find 4,000 believers, and that number grew to 10,000 by the time he was martyred six years later.

Severe persecution of the Catholics started in 1785 and lasted for almost one hundred years. The first Korean priest, Fr. Andrew Kim, ordained in China in 1845, was martyred the following year. When Pope John Paul II went to Korea in 1984 to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the Church, he canonized 103 martyrs, of which 92 were lay people of whom 47 were women.

The Korean Catholics have a tremendous devotion to Our Blessed Lady. In 1890 the Catholic Church in Korea was placed under the patronage of the “Immaculate Conception” of the Blessed Virgin Mary. When the Cathedral in Seoul was completed in 1898 it was dedicated to Our Lady under the same title.

In view of their history it is not surprising that there are so many dedicated and enthusiastic legionaries. The first praesidium was started by Bishop Henry of the Society of St. Columban, in 1953 when the country was devastated at the end of the Korean war. Now we find Korean praesidia all over the world. There are four praesidia in the Columbus, Ohio diocese. When a first little group of Catholics set foot in a foreign country, they immediately start a Legion of Mary praesidium as the best means of conserving their own faith, and then reaching out to evangelize the non-Christians who must form a large percentage of the emigrants from Korea.

In Korea itself, Catholics are a minority, just under 4 million in a population of 42 million. However, the Catholic Church is held in very high esteem, and Catholics exert a good influence in many areas of life out of all proportion to their numbers.