Legion of Mary ‘is an extension of my faith’

Mr John Tagiilima

Being a member of the Legion of Mary can involve travelling many a mile — especially when visiting people in one’s area — and John Tagiilima started at a young age.  

When he was a boy, Mr Tagiilima, who is now president of the Legion’s Senatus that covers New Zealand, Samoa, Tonga, the Cook Islands and Fiji, was sent by his parents to a junior praesidium meeting in his native Samoa. 

He remembers having to walk a couple of miles to get to the house of the family who were hosting the meetings.  

As an adult, Mr Tagiilima moved with his wife to Fiji, where they joined a praesidium, of which he was later to become president. 

“To me, [being a member of the Legion] is an extension of my faith. It keeps my faith going and refreshed every day,” he said.  

Now Mr Tagiilima, who lives in Te Atatu, is working on another challenge, alongside other Legion members — helping put together Legion of Mary centenary celebrations next month. Modern members are following in the footsteps of the many who went before them. 

According to the Legion of Mary’s New Zealand website, the Legion of Mary is “the largest apostolic organisation of lay people in the Catholic Church, with well over three million active members in almost every country of the world”. 

“The main purpose of the Legion is the glory of God and the holiness of its members through prayer and active co-operation in the Church’s work of sanctification of the world.” 

The Legion of Mary began in Dublin in Ireland in 1921, with Frank Duff as its founder. A New Zealander, Elizabeth Kirwan, was the first president of a Legion praesidium and the first president of the overall association. The Legion started in Dunedin with an inaugural meeting in 1933, and in Christchurch the next year, and five years later started in Auckland — at St Michael’s parish, Remuera, on June 16, 1938. 

The Remuera meeting was attended by Bishop James Liston, Vicar General Msgr Cahill, two other monsignors, five parish priests and seventeen laywomen and one layman. Bishop Liston had encountered the Legion when he had attended the Eucharistic Congress in Dublin in 1932.  

Mr Tagiilima said it is fitting that the centenary celebrations in Auckland this year are taking place at St Michael’s, Remuera, with a novena starting on September 2 (with a Mass on that day too) and finishing on September 10, before a one-day celebration on September 11, which includes a centenary Mass at 11am. The day will also involve talks from Legion spiritual director Fr Andrew Matthew and from other Auckland priests, and from past-Senatus president Mark Gasparini. Food will be provided. 

Mr Tagiilima said the Legion is preparing to welcome some 500 people to the celebration. All are welcome.  

In 2008, in Auckland diocese, the Legion had about 100 praesidia, in about 36 parishes, and eight junior praesidia. Mr Tagiilima expects that more recent numbers will be included in an updated history of the Legion in this country, which he hopes will be available by the end of the year.   

The ethnicities of Legion members in New Zealand might have changed somewhat since 1933, in line with changes in the Church itself in this country in this regard, but the Legion’s work is very similar to that done all those years ago, he added. Among Legion’s works are going door-to-door in parishes and meeting people, visiting the sick and elderly and the newly baptised, religious education, and taking special statues of Our Lady from home to home. 

Mr Tagiilima said that the work follows the Legion’s handbook pretty closely. Active members try to do two work hours a week, which they report back to a weekly meeting, at which they pray and receive guidance and help from a spiritual director. There is also a commitment to prayer. 

However, the current pandemic environment means some changes might be ahead for visitation work, Mr Tagiilima said. 

“I think with Covid this is going to change a little bit in terms of us going into contact with people, with the new viruses and such. We might have to come up with another safer way of approaching these people.” 

Mr Tagiilima said that the door-knocking that the Legion does is very helpful for parish priests, because the clergy cannot be everywhere. The work helps in recruiting new members to the Church, and in reaching out to lapsed Catholics as well. 

Currently, in New Zealand, the Legion is strong in its Filipino and Korean praesidia, as well as in its Samoan and other Pasifika praesidia. But when it starts in a parish in this country, the Legion tries to establish an English language praesidium first, unless there are sufficient numbers to have two praesidia there, with one being an English language one. 

As the number of priests and religious available decreases, it can sometimes be a challenge to provide spiritual directors for the different praesidia, Mr Tagiilima said, adding his gratitude for the work that Fr Matthew does in this regard.  

Another challenge is a lack of knowledge about the Legion of Mary, Mr Tagiilima said. 

“When we go and try to recruit new members, some people have never heard of the Legion of Mary. We don’t publicise and are known by people by word of mouth. I think it is a work in progress to try to get the word out there. . . .  

“The Legion of Mary is for people who want to do a little more work spiritually and be hands-on with the work of Mary.” 

Preparations for the centenary celebrations are well underway. Celebrations are also being held on September 11 at St Anne’s parish church and hall, Newtown, Wellington, starting with Holy Mass, and in Christchurch as well. 


Posted in

Michael Otto

Reader Interactions


  1. Killian McMorrow says

    Congratulations to Brother Michael and all the NZ legionsrirs on their wonderful work for Our Lady, Mary our Mother.
    Wishing you blessed and happy centenary celebrations.

  2. Patricia Mary Pascall says

    Thank you for your wonderful update, Mr Otto.
    We are full of hope that some of members may attend the Celebrations for our great saintly founder, Frank Duff, after lockdown. We have our little Legion prayer group in Cambridge . Although we are small in number, we are firm in esteem for our great founder .
    God bless you in your great work.
    Our little Legion Prayer group in Cambridge

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