Sodality of Our Lady

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The Sodality of Our Lady (also known as the Sodality of the Blessed Virgin Mary (in Latin, Congregationes seu sodalitates B. Mariæ Virginis) is a Roman Catholic Marian Society founded in 1563 by young Belgian Jesuit, Jean Leunis (or Jan), at the Collegio Romano of the Society of Jesus.[1] The Ignatian lay group, Christian Life Community, traces its origins to the first Sodality.

Although first established for young school boys, the Papal bull, Superna Dispositione, allowed for Sodalities for adults, under the authority of the Superior General of the Society of Jesus , were allowed to be established (as aggregates of the Sodality at the Roman College). Later on, Sodalities would be established for particular groups in society, such as Priests, Noblemen and Women, Merchants, Labourers, Clerks, the Married, the Unmarried, Soldiers, Street Sodalities (ad infinitum). Each of these groups would be affiliated with the 'Prima-Primaria Sodality' of the Roman College.




The Jesuit historian, John W. O'Malley wrote of the foundations of the Sodality in his book 'The First Jesuits', that, 'It was... made up especially of younger boys (pueri) from the college, who agreed to daily mass, weekly confession, monthly Communion, as well as to a half-hour of meditation each day and to some other pious exercises. They would also "serve the poor."'[1] He goes on to write that, 'The choice of patron Mary (mother of Jesus) reflected the strong Marian element in Leunis's personal piety, but it was also probably considered appropriate for the age of the members.'[2]

In 1587, following a request from the Society of Jesus, Pope Sixtus V issued the Papal bull Superna Dispositione, which gave the Superior General of the Society of Jesus the right to create aggregates of the first Congregation within other localities, even among persons who were not enrolled in a Jesuit school or University.[3] As a result of this document, lay Congregations, such as the Ignatian Christian Life Community, and the Ignatian only in origin, 'Marianische Frauencongregation' or 'Ladies' Sodality of Our Lady' of Regensburg, Germany, derive their beginnings.

17th Century to the Suppression of the Society of Jesus (1773)

In the late 16th Century and throughout the 17th, Jesuits were using the model of the first Sodality at the Roman College to establish a number of similar Sodalities in Europe, India and the Americas as organisations of lay spirituality.

Similar models, although not aggregates of the 'Prima Primaria', were the confrarias (or Confraternities) founded by the Jesuits in Japan. Within a few years of their arrival in 1549, the Jesuits had established lay communities of Catholic faithful. As Jesuit historian John O'Malley writes of these groups, 'eventually [they] had male and female branches and devoted themselves to both the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. When the persecutions started in the seventeenth century [see Toyotomi Hideyoshi], [the Confraternities] proved to be the underground institution in which Christian faith and practices were maintained and transmitted to the next generation. The leader of the confraternity acted as a lay pastor.'[4]

In Europe, during the 17th Century, the number of Sodalities levelled off at around 2500 groups.

About a century later, in 1748, Pope Benedict XIV, with the Papal bull, Praeclaris Romanorum, attempted to renew the vigour of Congregation life.[3]

In 1767, the Society of Jesus was expelled from Latin America and in 1773, with the suppression of the Society of Jesus by Pope Clement XIV, the congregations 'become one of the normal works of the universal Church'.[3]

Views on the development of the Sodality after the Suppression of the Society of Jesus

After Pope Clement XIV, through the brief Dominus ac Redemptor, suppressed the Jesuits in 1773, the Sodality became 'one of the normal works of the universal Church'. There are two common opinions regarding the direction the sodalities took after the suppression.

In the history of the Christian Life Community on their global website, it states that, following the suppression of the Society of Jesus, 'In the eighteenth century membership increase[d] vastly, from 2500 groups to 80 000. The consequence [wa]s a diminishment in fervour and practice. The spiritual life of the members and the social concern for the rejected of society [wa]s reduced to pious practices and annual and symbolic events. The Marian Congregations [became] a pious mass movement, different from what Ignatius or Jean Leunis or Aquaviva had meant it to be.'[3]

Those who still form part of the 'Marian Congregations', such as the 'Marianische Frauencongregation' of Regensburg, Germany, would argue otherwise. While the Congregations do not explicitly follow Ignatian spirituality, nor encourage corporal and spiritual works of mercy, they claim their existence originated with the original sodality, and believe their devotional practices worthy of merit.

Papal Blessing

In 1748, Pope Benedict XIV made a special gift to the Sodality, in the form of a Papal bull called Gloriosae Dominae, which came to be known as the "Golden Bull" because the seal was not made of lead, as was customary, but of gold - in order to give special honour to the Mother of God. In addition, Pope Pius XII, through the Apostolic Constitution (1948), called Bis Saeculari, gave special honour to the Sodality by summarising the historical and contemporary (up to 1948) relevance of the Sodality.

Apostolic Constitution: Bis Saeculari

Pope Pius XII issued the Apostolic Constitution Bis Saeculari on the 27th of September, 1948, to mark the 200th anniversary of the "Golden Bull" of Benedict XIV. Bis Saeculari, praised the Sodality for its "numerous and great services to the Church" and said of the Sodalists that "Indeed in propagating, spreading and defending Catholic doctrine they must be considered among the most powerful spiritual forces". Of the Rules of the Sodality he says "through them the members are perfectly lead to that perfection of spiritual life from which they can scale the heights of sanctity" and adds that "wherever Sodalities are in a flourishing condition - holiness of life and solid attachment to religion readily grow and flourish". He illustrates the point by adding that "the fact that they ever had the common good of the Church at heart and not some private interest is proved by the unimpeachable witness of that most brilliant series of Sodalists to whom Mother Church has decreed the supreme honours of the Altars; their glory throws lustre not merely on the Society of Jesus but on the secular clergy and on not a few religious families, since ten members of the Sodalities of Our Lady became founders of new Religious Orders and Congregations".

The Children of Mary (associated group)

On May 1, 1835, St. Catherine Laboure told her Spiritual Director of a revelation she had received from the Blessed Virgin Mary during a series of apparitions she received in the Convent of the Rue du Bac, Paris, from 1830: "It is the Blessed Virgin's wish that you should found a Confraternity of the Children of MARY. She will give them many graces. The month of May will be kept with great splendour and MARY will bestow abundant blessings upon them."

These Children of Mary Sodalities first embraced the pupils and orphans of the schools and institutions of the Sisters of Charity of St Vincent de Paul. In 1847, Blessed Pius IX affiliated them to the Jesuit Roman Sodality.

The Children of Mary organization flourished in the mid 20th century. Young women went through a period of aspirancy of six months prior to acceptance as a fully fledged child of Mary, who had the right to wear the distinctive blue cape and carry the blue off of a Child of Mary. When a Child of Mary married, she was embraced on arrival on the Church steps by other Children of Mary who removed the blue cape from over her Wedding gown. In retrospect this can be viewed as a metaphorical deflowering of the young virgin as she went to be joined with her husband in the arms of the Catholic faith.

Sodality Rules

The first of its rules states that the Sodality: "is a religious body which aims at fostering in its members and ardent devotion, reverence, and filial love towards the Blessed Virgin Mary. Through this devotion, and with the protection of so good a Mother, it seeks to make the faithful gathered together under her name good Catholics, sincerely bent on sanctifying themselves, each in his state of life, and zealous, as for as their condition in life permits, to save and sanctify their neighbour and to defend the Church of Jesus Christ against the attacks of the wicked."

Post-Vatican II and the advent of the Christian Life Communities

Until the establishment of the Christian Life Communities in 1967, the "Sodality of Our Lady" remained the Ignatian lay organisation. Many Sodalities of Our Lady, in the spirit of the Second Vatican Council, were led to become more devoted to people who were in spiritual and physical need (the hungry, naked, homeless and imprisoned), after having been encouraged to return to their original charism by the Ecumenical Council.

Some Marian Congregations have been reconstituted since Vatican II, the Marianische Frauencongregation or Ladies' Sodality of Our Lady of Regensburg is a case in point. HSH Princess Gloria von Thurn und Taxis is the re-founding Prefect.

Notable members


On its rolls are the names of many saints, amongst whom may be mentioned: Saint Charles Borromeo, the zealous reformer of Church Discipline; St. Francis de Sales, Bishop of Geneva and Doctor of the Church; Saint Alphonsus Liguori, the Bishop, Moral Theologian, Doctor of the Church, Founder of the Redemptorists; St. Camillus de Lellis, the patron of Catholic hospitals; St. Leonard of Port Maurice, the Franciscan preacher; Saint Giovanni Battista de Rossi, the Vincent de Paul of Rome; St. Peter Claver, the apostle of slaves; the humble Jesuit Brother, St. Alphonsus Rodriguez; Saint Madeleine Sophie Barat, foundress of the Religious of the Sacred Heart;Saint Julie Billart, the foundress of the Sisters of Notre Dame of Namur; Saint Therese of the Child Jesus and Saint Bernadette Soubirous of Lourdes.


Among the members, known as Sodalists, were learned men and writers like Corneille, Lipsius, Bollandus, James Joyce; there were painters like Rubens; there were preachers like Bossuet, Fénelon, Segneri, Bourdaloue; there were magistrates, generals and ministers of State, like Tilly, Turenne, Don Juan de Austria; there were counts and dukes and princes of the blood royal, like Emmanuel of Savoy, Emperor Leopold of Austria, Albrecht von Wallenstein; there were kings and emperors, Bishops, Archbishops, Cardinals, and Popes. In the seventeenth century alone seven Popes belonged to the Sodality of Our Lady. In the twentieth century, Sodalist Popes have included Benedict XV, Pius XI, Pius XII and John Paul II.


  1. ^ a b O'Malley, J W 1993, 'The First Jesuits', Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, p. 197
  2. ^ O'Malley, J W 1993, 'The First Jesuits', Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, p. 198
  3. ^ a b c d
  4. ^ O'Malley, J W 1993, 'The First Jesuits', Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, p. 195

Further Reading

External links

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