Reeling in the Years (The Legion of Mary in Australia)


Amongst the visitors to Dublin for the International Eucharistic Congress in 1932 was Father Henry Bakker, parish priest of Ascot Vale, Victoria. Father Bakker met Frank Duff, who spoke to him about the possibility of setting up the Legion in Australia. Father Bakker attended several meetings and realised the potential of the Legion before returning to Melbourne.

Mrs. Gavan Duffy, of Mt. Eliza, Victoria, also visiting Dublin in 1932, had a meeting with Frank Duff and promised to study the Legion’s operations in India on her way back to Australia. By February, 1933, she arrived in Melbourne, to find that Father Bakker had already approached Archbishop Mannix for permission to start a praesidium, and had, in fact, begun the first branch in his own parish. Mrs. Gavan Duffy lost no time in setting up the Legion at Frankston, and by the following June a Curia was formed to govern the existing branches and carry on the work of extension.

Father Bakker became Spiritual Director of this Curia and Mrs. Gavan Duffy took on the role of President. Extension was a priority and quickly bore fruit.
The first Diocese outside Melbourne to adopt the Legion was Sandhurst, with its inaugural meeting at Bendigo in January, 1934.
Melbourne Curia was raised to Senatus level in June, 1934.
Adelaide adopted the Legion the same year; Tasmania and Broken Hill followed in 1935 and Queensland in 1936. Perth set up its first praesidium in 1940 and Sydney followed in 1942.

In July, 1944, when the tenth anniversary of the establishment of the Senatus was celebrated, the Legion had extended to every State in the Commonwealth and to New Zealand. There were 643 branches, with an active membership of 5,470 and 35,000 auxiliaries.

Archbishop Mannix granted the ‘Imprimatur’ to the Official Handbook of the Legion of Mary. This action had such far-reaching positive consequences for the Legion that the Concilium conferred upon the Archbishop of Melbourne the title of Laureate Member.