Fr. Anthony Gramlich MIC is the rector of the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. This past December, I had the privilege of conducting an interview with Fr. Anthony. I spoke with him recently to follow up on the work the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception are doing to share the message of Divine Mercy.
Last time I spoke with you, it was just at the start of the Year of Mercy. You spoke about how pilgrims are a big part of your outreach; have you seen a greater number of pilgrims at the National Shrine this year?
Yes! During the winter time, it is usually our slow season in regards to pilgrims, but these past months, we didn’t see the usual drop. We were still getting one bus here or there in November, December, and January, and we even had a bus in February which is very unusual. In March we usually don’t get any buses, but we have five buses scheduled and the car traffic has been much higher than normal. We’ve been seeing 50-75 people on the weekdays throughout this winter and maybe 100-150 people on the weekends.
I know it is the Jubilee Year of Mercy that is causing an influx of pilgrims, because our pilgrimage coordinator has told me that every single weekend from March until October is booked up with buses. We are booked so much so that if we have a bus that wants to register, we are trying to persuade them to register during the week. We’ve never had all of our weekends reserved by February!
The Shrine has one of the National Holy Doors. How do you use the beautiful Shrine and the Stations of the Cross to help draw people into a relationship with Christ and His Mother?
In the Diary of St. Faustina, Jesus said to meditate upon His Passion during the three o’clock hour. He asked St. Faustina to mediate on the Passion, to make the Stations of the Cross if she could and to adore Him in the Blessed Sacrament. At the Shrine, the Stations give Pilgrims the opportunity to go through the Passion of Christ whether it is at 3pm or another hour. They then take the fruits of His Passion with them when they go into the Shrine and look at the image of the Resurrection – that is the image of Divine Mercy – and pray the Chaplet of Divine Mercy.
You mentioned that all the Marian Fathers do parish missions. What does one of look like and how someone could bring a Marian Father to do a mission at their parish?
Right now during Lent, about half of our Marians are out doing missions. We just have a small group that is taking care of the Shrine and the pilgrims. Right now, even as I am taking care of the Shrine, I am also doing a local parish mission through this week. Over the weekend I preached at all the Masses so as to give people an introduction to the mission. I had the ushers hand out pamphlets on the Jubilee Year of Mercy (the theme of the mission) and it is going to be a three day mission Monday-Wednesday. Monday, I will be giving a hour talk on the Jubilee Year of Mercy followed by a Penance service offering Confession. Tuesday night we are also going to offer Confession and then on Wednesday there will be a social.
We bring a lot of materials that the Marian Helpers Center prints and provide these to those interested. This gives them a chance to not only hear to message of Divine Mercy and the Jubilee Year of Mercy, but also to bring home material with them. They can read about Divine Mercy for the first time or increase their knowledge of it and go deeper into the message. We try to bring various materials to reach each person. This ranges from booklets and books to CD’s, DVD’s, images and religious items so that each pilgrim can have their needs met.
Usually a mission consists of talks, preaching to all the masses, handing out free pamphlets to all the people at the Sunday masses, and a Penance service with Confession. Some churches will do an ask on the last day and we’ll usually do a social the last night since that gives people a chance to ask specific questions to the priest who is doing the mission. It gives them a chance to be one-on-one and really ask those personal questions about Divine Mercy or the faith. Sometimes parishes will get together with other parishes to get more people since it can be really difficult to get a priest to come for a parish mission. In this cases, it might end up being a regional parish mission.
Could you tell us a bit more about all the different forms of media and how effective they are in spreading the message of Divine Mercy?
We mainly minister to the United States and Canada, and the shrine in Poland is printing religious materials in all different languages since they are servicing Europe. Under Communism, the Sisters in Poland were forbidden to print any material on Divine Mercy and we were making up for that at the Marian Helpers Center by printing materials in Polish, English, Spanish, and other languages. With the fall of Communism, they have been able to take that up again.
We have some really good writers like Fr. Michael Gaitley and Fr. Don Calloway, who have been putting out materials. They really have gifts for writing and Fr. Michael Gaitley just did a DVD series on the Second Greatest Story Ever Told. We try to use all the forms of media – booklets, pamphlets, books, images, e-books (we are trying to get more of these materials in e-books so people can read on I-pads, I-pods, Kindles, etc.) We also have the Divine Mercy app and the Marian app.
We try to reach out through many different ways, but most especially through the Sacraments. I think the most important message of Divine Mercy is the Sacraments especially the sacrament of Confession and the sacrament of the Eucharist. This is something we do at the Shrine and that is what really changes peoples’ lives because the Sacraments give people a concrete way to experience God’s Mercy.
I also do a lot of healing masses in the area which is another way for people to experience Divine Mercy. We Marians try to do little works of Mercy here and there. For example, one of the brothers said to me the other day, “We have a lot of extra towels and sheets that we aren’t using. I’d like to take them to a Christian center for the homeless where they are sleeping on the floor.” I responded, “Of course!” There are just so many small ways like that in which we try to reach out. We need to heed that call and not just focus on ourselves and our own spirituality; we have to think about others.
We’re sinners like everyone else. As Marians, and even as priests and religious, we must recognize our great need for Divine Mercy. It is only when we experience our great need for Divine Mercy – our own sinfulness and how much we need God’s Mercy – that we are spurred on to reach out to others. We know what it is like without God and we need Him.
Could you tell us a little bit more about the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception?
The Marians were founded in Poland by a priest of Polish origin, Fr. Stanislaus Papczynski. He had a great love for the blessed Mother and especially for her Immaculate Conception. He was originally in another religious community and he was challenging the various charisms of the order. He was persecuted and they basically threw him out. He wasn’t thrown out because he did anything wrong, but he was like a prophet – he spoke up and got in trouble.
He had the inspiration to found a new religious community dedicated to the Immaculate Conception of our Blessed Mother. He founded this in 1673 and he had a rough beginning trying to spread the community, the charism, and to get members to join. During his life he had mystical experiences visiting the souls in purgatory. He would actually go on the battlefield and give the last rites to soldiers who were dying on the battlefield and then these soldiers would either visit him or he would go visit these soldiers in purgatory. He would come back and do prayers and penances for them. He never really described what exactly he saw, but he would say, “Pray for the souls in purgatory, they suffer so much.” He eventually made it a charism of the community to pray for souls in purgatory.
The two charisms of the Marians are a devotion to the Blessed Mother specifically Her Immaculate Conception and praying for the souls in purgatory. Blessed Stanislaus Papczynski died in 1701 and his original rule was never approved. The Marians received their rule from the Holy See – Ten Virtues of the Blessed Virgin Mary – which was the rule of the Marians for over 200 years. The history of the community was really a history of persecution. The Marians were persecuted in 1794 when Poland was taken over by three countries. Then in 1830’s, they were kicked out of Rome and out of Portugal. In 1854, the Russian government closed all of the Marian houses down and sent many of them to Siberia. In 1910, the Marians were reduced down to one person in the entire religious community.
It was at this time when a diocesan priest joined the religious community secretly and revived the community. His name is Blessed George Matulaitis-Matulewicz and we consider him to be our renovator. He renovated the community and gave the community a new outlook especially with our apostolate. He really emphasized St. Paul and using the media; these are things that we are still doing today. He died in 1927 and at the time of his death, there were over 300 Marians!
Then the Marians experienced more persecution under Communisim from 1940 until the 1990’s and various priests were sent to Siberia. It was in 1941 that the Marians from Poland brought the Divine Mercy to the Marian community in the United States and we have been spreading the message of the Divine Mercy ever since. It has only been since after the fall of Communism in the 1990’s that we’ve actually had all our Marian houses free from Communist control and persecution. Now, we know how many Marians there actually are since many had to go into hiding and work as diocesan priests during Communist rule.
It is really interesting how the community has struggled, fought and risen. Our founder was considered a saint during his lifetime. He was actually the chaplain of the King of Poland and also the confessor of one of the Apostolic Nuncios of Poland who eventually became Pope Benedict XII. After his life, due to the persecution in Poland, they were not able to get the witnesses for his beatification. We’ve been waiting for over three hundred years to get his beatification and he was finally beatified in the year 2007! The miracle was the resuscitation of an unborn child that had died in his mother’s womb. Recently, there was another miracle and this miracle was approved by Rome in 2015. So, after 300 years, our founder is going to be canonized in Rome in June of this year! After 300 years of waiting, he’ll be canonized during this Jubilee Year of Mercy and we thought, “God couldn’t plan this out any better than for him to be canonized in the Jubilee Year of Mercy!” It is such a great thing for our religious community.
In the United States, we have experienced a steady influx of seminarians in the last five-to-ten years . So much so that we just don’t where all the seminarians are coming from! We have a lot of seminarians who are studying for our community which is surprising since we are a small community. But, God has really blessed us with a lot of seminarians. We know that not all of them will persevere, but we hope that many will become priests and brothers to come help us spread the message of Divine Mercy.
What would a day look like for a Marian Father?
It all depends on the particular house in which the Marian resides. Different houses have different apostolates and different schedules. For instance we have two formation houses, one in Washington D.C. and one in Steubenville, Ohio. The schedules there would really revolve around the seminarian schedule. It would usually consist of Mass in the morning, morning prayer, an examination of conscience in the afternoon, evening prayer at night and the Rosary. Probably breakfast, lunch and dinner together and then some free time.
Parish life would be different. They do evening and morning prayer together, and they may do an afternoon or evening meal together. At the Shrine, we are very busy; it is probably the busiest apostolic house. We have common prayer together in the morning and evening. We have an optional examination of conscience in the afternoon and we pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet either individually or leading the pilgrims at the Shrine. We have an optional Rosary every day. We usually do not do meditations in common, but we are required to do a half hour of meditation. We do common lunch and common dinner together. We do a lot together on a regular basis, while at the same time there is a lot of time for individual prayer and for our apostolate.
The apostolate depends on the person’s assignment or assignments – we have people with very busy assignments. For me, as the house superior, I am responsible for anything that pertains to the house. This includes house retreats, house meetings, meeting with individuals members, fixing things that need it, and general administration. I’m also the Shrine Rector so I have to take care of all the administration of the Shrine, the assignments of the priests there – both for Masses and the confession assignments – manage the employees, and handle anything that need fixing. Dealing with maintenance, finance, meeting with my secretary, meeting with brother priests, and the Marian Helper Center, is a lot of work! It is so much work that I’ve never been able to say, “I finished my work during the day!”
Of course, we are priests so we do sacramental ministry on a daily basis whether it is confession, Masses, or anointing of the sick. Sometimes people at the Shrine ask for blessings or they might want to speak to a priest for spiritual direction. We help out at parishes and also do preaching missions. You name it, we get the whole gambit!
The big thing is to try to find individual time for ourselves. We try to do recreation and relax as a community; maybe watch a movie or do something together, but it all depends on our time in the week. As I said, the different houses each have a different life and some houses are busier than others. We have a lot of different ministries. It is very dynamic and I think the fact that we are dynamic is attractive to seminarians. In our apostolate, you are not stuck doing only one thing, you’ll be doing lots of different jobs.
Are there any last thoughts you want to share?
This Jubilee Year of Mercy is a miracle from God. Not just for us at the National Shrine for Divine Mercy, but it is a miracle for all the Church to have the Pope emphasizing this message of mercy. I feel that in this time, the Church and the world need His Divine Mercy. I’m convinced that it does change peoples’ lives and I’ve seen it first hand in my priesthood. God is opening up wide the doors of Mercy and these doors are in different churches all around the world. He has His Heart open for us and wants us to come in through the doors of Mercy. That is really exciting to see!
Thank you Father!