In 1931, when the Vincentians gathered for their Chapter meeting in Paris, one of the American Delegates was Father Joe Donovan, a Vincentian priest. An American nun speaking to him at the convent on Rue du Bac (made famous by Our Lady's visits to St. Catherine Laboure and the birthplace of the Miraculous Medal), gave Father Donovan a copy of the Legion handbook. One reading of it so electrified him that his entire being was burning with the question: Was this the organization that the Church was waiting for?
Joe Donovan decided not to waste any further time. At once he changed his travel reservations and returned to Ireland. He had been there before coming to Paris, but had not even heard the name "Legion of Mary" while in Ireland. He was deeply stirred by the beauty of the Handbook and the ideal of lay people becoming active missionaries, doing everything for and with Mary. He HAD to see for himself if this actually worked. After meeting Frank Duff and other stalwarts of the young Legion, the pioneers of the organization, and observing the activities of the Concilium, Father Joe had the answer to his Question. This was, indeed, the organization the Church had been looking for!
Arriving back home in St. Louis he wrote a short news report for the DENVER REGISTER and a longer, thought-provoking article in the AMERICAN ECCLESIASTICAL REVIEW. A priest in Raton, New Mexico, read the news item in the DENVER REGISTER, sent to Ireland for information and set up the first praesidium in the United States at St. Patrick's parish in a mining community in New Mexico. Father Donovan's original praesidium of girls from Webster College, working at DePaul Hospital was formed in St. Louis five months later, on April 3, 1932.
In the 30's and 40's when Dublin Envoys went throughout the United States working to plant the Legion everywhere, they were often startled to discover that the priests they were contacting were already aware of the Legion and were waiting to be approached. The question, "Have you ever heard of the Legion of Mary?" was often answered: "Sure!--from Joe Donovan!" One priest exclaimed: "Have I heard of the Legion of Mary? Didn't I spend eight hours on a train with Father Donovan, eight solid hours of conversation about the Legion of Mary?!" Father Donovan was ALWAYS on duty. He was, indeed, the first Apostle of the Legion here in the United States.
The December, 1956 issue of MARIA LEGIONIS carried a picture of Father Donovan who had just celebrated his golden jubilee, citing him as a theologian of high repute and an outstanding canonist, who brought the prestige of his name and reputation to the Legion when it was in its infancy.
Three years later, in March, 1959 another article in MARIA LEGIONIS carried the heading, "Death comes to a Laureate" the Laureate being the Very Rev. Joseph Donovan. Under his picture the caption read: "THIS LEARNED, BRILLIANT AND HOLY MAN STARTED THE LEGION IN THE NEW WORLD."
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