The Founders

Cardinal Suenens

Cardinal Suenens (1904 - 1996) It is perhaps the homily by Cardinal Danneels delivered at the funeral of Cardinal Suenens that places him the best. Here are a few excerpts: “Historians will no doubt trace with competence the ‘external portrait’ of the Cardinal; they will list his accomplishments. God alone will know his ‘moral portrait’. Only God knows his moral profile, for He alone knows the love that is in the heart of people.

Cardinal Suenens

Cardinal Suenens (1904 – 1996) 

It is perhaps the homily by Cardinal Danneels delivered at the funeral of Cardinal Suenens that places him the best. Here are a few excerpts:

“Historians will no doubt trace with competence the ‘external portrait’ of the Cardinal; they will list his accomplishments. God alone will know his ‘moral portrait’. Only God knows his moral profile, for He alone knows the love that is in the heart of people. But between the two extremes, there is room for an ‘a portrait’ of the Cardinal’s inner nature. Who really was he ?

As a watchman waits for daybreak

kardinaalThe cardinal was a man of the dawn. Besides, he was an early riser all his life, even up to his last days. Like a watchman, examining every daybreak in the Church, he recalled the words of the prophet: “See I am doing something new! Now it springs forth. Do you not perceive it?” (Is.43.19)

Wherever something was stirring, sprouting, about to blossom, in the Church and in the world, he had already seen it. He was a man who was always alert and on the move, truly a man of the Spirit, one who could feel the wind of God on his skin, that wind which, as Jesus said to Nicodemus, “blows where it wills; you hear the sound of it, but you do not know whence it comes or whither it goes (Jn.3,8). Throughout his life, too, he was a man of the Upper Room, at prayer with Mary and the Twelve, waiting for the violent wind of the Spirit that was about to blow on the city. For him every morning was a Pentecostal morning.

To the Cardinal the Church was always astonishingly young. He scanned its face like a father gazing at his daughter’s face, seeking tender traces of her earliest years.

He was in addition, an excellent meteorologist in the Church. At each new dawn, he could predict the weather for later in the day. The Legion of Mary, the first of his discoveries, was a case in point. He knew that something new was being bourn there: involvement of the laity, prayer around Mary in the Upper Room, faith in the power of the Holy Spirit, direct evangelization of one lay person by another. “One is not fully christianized until one has, in turn, become a christianiser”. The world must be exposed to the ‘temptation to believe’. He knew what was promising and what was stirring in the Church.

From very early on in his life, his contact with Dom Lambert Beauduin had awakened him to ecumenism. For, at a time when God is in danger of disappearing from the scene, when the sense of the transcendent is on the wane, when faith is becoming dim and love seems to be entering upon a kind of winter, all those who believe in the God of Jesus Christ must band together and bear the notion of God aloft above the confusion. Yes, the Cardinal knew what was promising and what was stirring in the Church.

Then came Vatican II. With his great promise to rejuvenate the Church, to restore the Bride of Christ to her youthful appearance without spot or wrinkle. In those early days of the ‘60s, everything in the Church was in the process of being born or reborn: collegiality of the bishops around Peter, co-responsibility of the People of God, involvement of the laity, renewal of religious life, ecumenism, freedom of conscience, a Church in touch with the joys and hopes, the sorrows and pain of all people. Gaudium et spes, luctus et angor. This watchman on the ramparts at dawn knew what was stirring in the Church.

Finally there came the Charismatic Renewal. How was it that a Cardinal, whose countenance betrayed few emotions, a man of upright, calm bearing, of solemn, well modulated tones, could find himself at ease in the midst of a crowd singing, dancing, clapping hands, and speaking in tongues? Was it a late-life conversion to greater fantasy and imagination on the part of one who, up till then, had been all too sensible and responsible?

Not at all. It was rather, that he perceived in this revival a return to the Church of the Acts of the Apostles which had always been his dream: the taste for Scripture, spontaneous prayer, the sense of community, the movement of the Spirit, the abundance of charismas, as was seen at Corinth and in the first Pauline communities The Charismatic Renewal once more legitimated the role of the heart and of the body of the spiritual life of Christians.


“If we are powerless to change the wind, we can at least adjust our sails .”

Yes, he knew what was stirring in the Church. But others still had to learn to recognize it. It is one thing to have ideas, but to convince others of them is quite another. It is not enough to have the truth: one must also know how to communicate it. Therein lies the challenge!

It was a challenge which he faced admirably during Vatican II. And he succeeded. Pope John Paul II himself, in his message of condolence on the Cardinal’s death, made reference to this, saying he was an admirable moderator of the debates in the Council.

Was he a reformer, concerned with endowing the Church with solid new structures? Yes, but how is one to equate that with his affection for the Charismatic Renewal, where the Spirit blows where it wills, and where all is joy, exuberance, spontaneity?

Was he a man of bronze, as he is depicted on one of the portals of St. Peter’s in Rome along with the other moderators of the Council: handsome, determined and cold – or at least remote? But this cardinal was a shy man, with the soul of a child, and imbued with a great tenderness for Mary. This Council moderator said his rosary every day in the garden, as the simple ordinary people do.

Did he defy classification then? Yes, because he was too gifted with riches of intellect and heart to be grasped by only one line of approach…

… Leaving the mortuary chamber where Cardinal Mercier was laid out, in 1926, a Canon remarked: ‘They don’t make Churchmen like that anymore. The mould is broken.’ Dear predecessor, seventy years later I can tell you that this Canon was mistaken.

As for me, your successor, at this moment when like Elijah you are ascending into heaven, having left to me your Cardinal’s robe, I can find no better words to pray than those of Elisa: ‘Father, I pray you, let me inherit a double share of your spirit.” (2 Kings 2.9). And I would add: ‘May I never break the mould’… “Thank you, dear Cardinal.” (11.05.1996)

Since 1984, when the FIAT rosary was created, Cardinal Suenens took great pains to promote it. He wrote the “FIAT prayer” and brochures to develop different spiritual aspects of the FIAT rosary.

Together with Veronica O’Brien, he elaborated the principal lines of the spirituality which still guides the FIAT Association today.

His involvement was very concrete: through personal contacts and in his talks, he never ceased to expose with verve the essence of the FIAT spirituality: “Jesus continues today to be born in Mary and through the power of the Holy Spirit”.

The commemorative medal which Cardinal Danneels offered him on the occasion of his 90th birthday sums up his life admirably: his Episcopal motto “In Spiritu Santo”, the Second Vatican Council, ecumenism, and “FIAT”.

Veronica O'Brien

Veronica O'Brien (1905-1998) If Cardinal Suenens was the most renowned individual in the history of the FIAT Association’s development, it is Veronica O’Brien who was its mainspring. Here is a summary of her life, followed by a few tributes collected at the time of her death. Louise-Mary O’Brien was born in Middleton, Ireland, on 16 August 1905. She was the eleventh of thirteen children.

Veronica O'Brien

Veronica O’Brien (1905-1998)

If Cardinal Suenens was the most renowned individual in the history of the FIAT Association’s development, it is Veronica O’Brien who was its mainspring. Here is a summary of her life, followed by a few tributes collected at the time of her death.

The Legion of Mary

Louise-Mary O’Brien was born in Middleton, Ireland, on 16 August 1905. She was the eleventh of thirteen children. Responding to a call from the Lord, she entered the religious congregation of the Ladies of St. Clotilde, who had run the boarding school near London which she attended. She gradually became aware that this form of life did not correspond to her vocation and that she was called to a direct apostolate.

Veronica met Father Creedon, Father Toher en Frank Duff

Veronica met Father Creedon, Father Toher en Frank Duff

After fourteen years of life in the convent, and upon the advice of her superiors and ecclesiastical advisors, she left the congregation and began to search for her way, while continuing to use her religious name, Veronica, which reflected her desire to be personally united to Christ in his Passion.

After much searching, she discovered the Legion of Mary, which under the impetus of its founder, Frank Duff, a compatriot, was undergoing a remarkable expansion.

Just before the Second World War, having attended a single meeting of a ‘presidium’ in Dublin (The presidium is the basic team of the Legion of Mary), she left Ireland for France on the last boat to make the crossing. Her intention was to start the Legion there. Veronica arrived in the town of Nevers at the beginning of its occupation by the Germans. Risking her life (her British passport raised suspicions that she was a spy) and those of the nuns of the convent of Saint-Gildard who sheltered her, she founded the Legion of Mary in Nevers in August 1940.

After the war, she traveled throughout France, where she founded more than 800 presidia. During 20 years she was a delegate of the Legion of Mary, which she also established in Belgium, Greece, Turkey, and in the former Yugoslavia.



Joint apostolate with Cardinal Suenens

In Memories and Hopes , Cardinal Suenens wrote that his meeting with Veronica O’Brien in July 1947 “would be a most remarkable date in his life.” Later, in The Hidden Hand of God, he explains: “During our conversation, she spoke to me of union with Mary as an openness to the Holy Spirit. I immediately perceived that she was speaking from experience, with a rare depth.”

This first meeting would not be the last. A second meeting occurred at Lourdes, in April 1948, and was the real starting point of a close collaboration in the service of the Church that would last a half-century. Having received a university education at Cambridge, Veronica knew Latin well. This was of great service to Cardinal Suenens during Vatican II. In 1966, the cardinal wrote to Dr. Kathleen Owler, Veronica’s sister: “Isn’t Veronica’s life marvelous, and to see how the Lord prepared this life, step by step, in order for it to be fruitful for the Church and the world. Without her, a certain number of things could not have happened during the Council.”

Cardinal Suenens wrote a considerable number of books in collaboration with Veronica. In all his writings, the same appeal is addressed to Christians: to participate in the essential mission of the Church : evangelization.

In the second volume of his memoirs, Cardinal Suenens describes the life of Veronica and their collaboration. Concerning the Renewal, he writes: “in the matter of the discernment of spirits, my task was greatly facilitated by the constant collaboration of Veronica. Her doctrinal certainty, enlivened by an unparalleled spiritual experience, helped me to distinguish the authentic presence of the Spirit and his charisma from excesses and deviations encountered along the way.”

Cardinal Suenens and Veronica

Cardinal Suenens and Veronica

Another encounter that proved decisive was with the Charismatic Renewal. It was through reading a newspaper article from the United States that Veronica first heard of the Renewal. Always tuned in to what was happening in the postconciliar Church, in 1972 she went, together with Yvette Dubois, to visit several university centers where this spiritual renewal, inspired by Pentecostalism, had arisen among Catholics.

She took an active part in the flourishing of the Renewal in Belgium, France and the United States. She played a key role in the elaboration of the doctrinal texts of the Malines Documents , which contributed to implanting the charismatic enthusiasm firmly within Catholic tradition, while warning against certain fundamentalist deviations.

She was a special counselor of the International Catholic Charismatic Renewal Office (ICCRO) , the international secretariat of the Renewal, which had its seat first in Brussels at Cardinal Suenens’ residence, then later in Rome.

Apostle to the end

Veronica was truly an apostle to the end of her life. With great pedagogical skill she strove to turn each co-worker into a missionary of the Good News, maintaining all the while a great respect for the liberty of each person. Thus she founded the apostolic team that would work closely with Cardinal Suenens, and would become the FIAT Association.

In the words of Cardinal Suenens: “Unable, at her age, to offer herself to take the Gospel to the far corners of the earth, Veronica inspires and stimulates a variety of initiatives which make it possible to reach the same objective. One must love and serve, she says, not only with all our hearts, but also with all our imagination. Hence the initiatives of FIAT. These have as their goal the intensification of the spiritual life and thus of the apostolate of Christians…”

During the last years of her life, her advanced age confined her almost continuously to bed. It was there that she received the visitors whom she always prepared to receive in faith and in prayer. She asked God to give her the grace to be able to say a comforting word in a spirit of faith: “Only say the word and I shall be healed”, so that she might be able to give the word of comfort.

One day, during a time of sharing, she confided that she never wanted to say a single useless word. She was always oriented towards “the presence of Christ in the soul of the other”, even when her conversation was leavened with a sense of humour that made the most reserved people laugh.

Veronica wished ardently to enter the house of the Father

She received the Sacrament of the Sick for the first time on 8 September 1995, and to our great joy, her strength was revived.

After the death of Cardinal Suenens, on 6 May 1996, several bishops and priests came to celebrate the Eucharist at her bedside. She apologized to them for still being there. Despite her fatigue, she participated actively in the Mass, in the Divine Office and in praying the FIAT rosary.

On 11 February 1998, on the feast of Notre-Dame de Lourdes, she once again received the Sacrament of the Sick. Very weak, she entered eternal life on 19 February 1998, the day after the feast of St. Bernadette, surrounded by her loved ones.

Message from the Holy Father upon her departure from this world

…“The Holy Father assures you of his deep sympathy. He joins with all those who were close to her in thanksgiving for the service to the Church, the Marian apostolate and the spiritual radiance of this striking individual, who gave much to the faithful in several countries and especially in Belgium.

Veronica en haar medewerkster Yvette Dubois

Veronica en haar medewerkster Yvette Dubois

He asks the Lord to grant that she may enjoy forever the joy and peace of his Kingdom. Invoking the maternal tenderness of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary for Veronica’s intention, and entrusting to her those who continue her work, Pope John Paul II sends from the bottom of his heart his apostolic blessing to all those touched by this grief and united in prayer.” (signed Cardinal Sodano).

Other testimonies of bishops, priests and laypeople

…“I feel great gratitude and admiration for the work which the Lord entrusted to her to accomplish. I will join, from afar, in the Mass that will be celebrated for her at the chapel of the Miraculous Medal on the vigil of Palm Sunday.”

…“May we be able to pray with sufficient intensity that she may one day be recognized by the Church as someone who accepted the grace of the Lord and responded to it as fully as is possible.”

…“I cannot enumerate all that I received from her. Allow me to share that I always left your house, after a meeting with Veronica and after Mass, with a renewed zeal for evangelization. She never ceased, up to the last months of her life among us, to give Jesus to her brothers and sisters as Mary had given Jesus to the world, in the power of the Holy Spirit, so that human beings may know Love, God our Father.”

…“I did not know her very well personally, but every time I met her, I left with a greater apostolic zeal. She certainly had a special grace for our times. You know, the congregation had special ties with Veronica. She has not been forgotten.”

…“Will we ever find the exact words that can give sufficient thanks to God for this life of service, radiating and totally given over to the Lord, to the Blessed Mother and to our entire human and ecclesial community?”

…“If we can draw one lesson from Veronica’s life, it is perhaps that time is pressing. ‘The harvest is great, but the workers are few.’ Are we ready to follow her example in our own present milieu?”

…“We all know that Veronica is happy and blissful in the presence of the One whom she had so loved and whose apostle she became with great courage, perseverance, lucidity and such great faith. I will treasure my memory of Veronica’s profound gaze that searched the heart and that made the Lord seem so close. Her life will remain an example, and I pray that she may help me to become ever more of an evangelizer.”…