By NICHOLE GOLDEN, Staff Writer | Published October 15, 2015
JOHNS CREEK—The Marian Servants of the Blessed Trinity welcomed four new full members during an annual commitment day Mass Sept. 10 at St. Benedict Church in Johns Creek. The Mass also celebrated Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory’s recent affirmation of the Marian Servants as a public association of the Christian faithful in the archdiocese.
The Atlanta group is one of 14 faith communities nationwide under the Marian Servants of Divine Providence in Clearwater, Florida, the founding body.
“To become a Marian Servant is a calling,” said Sally Kazin, director of the Atlanta community and St. Benedict parishioner.
Those involved with Marian Servants feel called to a life of prayer, said Kazin. Members pray the daily rosary and the Divine Office and share their spirituality with others. In the Atlanta community, this is particularly done through spiritual direction. The spirituality of the Marian Servants is Catholic, Marian and charismatic.
Those interested in joining the community may spend some time participating in its activities before committing to the call to become a Marian Servant.
The process of deciding to become a full member “can take a few years,” Kazin said.
Each year, members of the community consecrate themselves to Jesus through Mary, committing to serve the archdiocese according to their rule of life: holiness, obedience and humble service.
The Atlanta community formed in December 1999 with the blessing of Archbishop John F. Donoghue. “It was a tiny little group,” said Kazin.
The community has grown to more than 60 members representing 14 parishes across the archdiocese
“The main part of our ministry is spiritual direction,” said Kazin.
Its members volunteer in a variety of areas from religious education to prison ministry. “We have a long, long list,” said Kazin of the ministries strengthened by Marian Servants.
Archbishop Gregory was principal celebrant for the commitment Mass and in his homily spoke about Mary’s hastening to visit Elizabeth, both expecting children who would change the course of human history.
“What do you think Elizabeth and Mary spoke about for three months?” questioned the archbishop. “We can suspect they encouraged one another.”
It is this model of encouragement that the members of Marian Servants cherish.
New full member Jean Ruggiero, parishioner of St. Benedict, finds support from being with others on the same road. A New York native, Ruggiero has been involved with Marian Servants first as a candidate and associate for a number of years and says it has helped her grow in faith and in love for the Blessed Virgin Mary.
“We are all on the same journey,” said Ruggiero. “I’m just blessed to be with this group.”
In addition to Ruggiero, Stephanie Eiden, Kirsten Harrison and Linda Spudic became new full members, receiving Marian Servant medals blessed by Archbishop Gregory. Spudic is a member of St. Andrew Church, Roswell. Harrison and Eiden are parishioners of St. Benedict. The medals are to serve as an outward sign to magnify the Lord at all times.
Nine new candidates also received a copy of the Marian Servants’ rule of life at the Mass.
Mother chapter offers school of spiritual direction
Diane Brown, foundress of the Marian Servants of Divine Providence in Florida, attended the commitment Mass.
“I visit each community once a year,” said Brown. She called the Atlanta group a marvelous community of real workers.
“They’re wonderful in spiritual direction,” said Brown.
Marian Servants has a School of Spirituality on its Clearwater campus associated with Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio. The program is designed to form and train candidates in spiritual direction over a two-year period through prayer, study and supervision.
The Atlanta community has 14 certified spiritual directors and eight more in formation.
A retreat ministry is also based on the Florida campus. The community’s Institute for Priestly Formation was founded to assist bishops in the spiritual formation of diocesan seminarians and priests.
Brown said each community nationwide has its own charism due to a “blending of all of the gifts” of its individual members.
In Louisiana, there is a particularly evangelical community that hosts large prayer services and evangelizes door to door, said Brown.
“That’s what’s so beautiful,” she said. God “knows what He needs in each area.”
The association with Franciscan University and being recognized as a public association lends credibility to the ministry, said Brown.
“We’re going to grow. God is doing it. We’re not pushing it,” she said. “All we do is try to be faithful to what is before us.”
Her hope is to one day have an Atlanta-based school for spiritual formation.
Brown founded Marian Servants in 1980. The death of her 15-year-old son in 1971 prompted her to question and ultimately deepen her faith.
For Brown, it’s the value of community that’s most important.
“I believe that is one of the greatest gifts God has given us,” she said. “I couldn’t live without community.”
One common misconception about Marian Servants is that it’s an entirely lay ministry. Priests, sisters and deacons join the lay members.
“It’s the church coming together,” said Brown. “We’ve got to be in unity.”
In the 1988 apostolic letter to the laity, “Christifideles Laici,” St. Pope John Paul II called for the lay faithful to be laborers in the vineyard for the Lord.
“Everyone needs a spiritual director. We not only have a call, we have a mandate,” explained Brown.
At the commitment day Mass, Brown acknowledged Kazin, a lifetime member of Marian Servants, and highlighted the community’s designation as a public association. The designation by the local bishop means that the members act in the name of the Catholic Church when fulfilling the purpose of the association and can receive a mission to teach Christian doctrine in the name of the church.
“To be a public association is taking on a great responsibility,” emphasized Brown. “It is the church.”