Mary’s Marines Are ‘Always Faithful’
An adoration initiative is underway at Ave Maria University.
The Marines have landed at Ave Maria University in Florida — Mary’s Marines, that is.
Nearly 500 students of this praying force formally commit to spending 15 to 60 minutes each day before the Blessed Sacrament in the university’s eight chapels, whether in the Martha J. Burke Perpetual Adoration Chapel or the chapel in every dorm.
“I believe the time they give Our Lord in front of the Blessed Sacrament will fill their hearts with joy and have a profound impact on their lives, the culture at the university and the Church as a whole,” Ave Maria University President Mark Middendorf, who had the idea for forming Mary’s Marines, told the Register.
Middendorf credits the coinage of the name to Father Michael Gaitley of the Marians of the Immaculate Conception and author of the best-selling Marian consecration program 33 Days to Morning Glory.
Another inspiration came from Ave Maria founder and chancellor Tom Monaghan, who served in the Marine Corps. “It was in the Marine Corps that he got what he would call his five priorities of life,” Middendorf told the Register. He pointed out the university’s mascot is Jax the Gyrene, another nod to Monaghan because Marines are affectionately known as “gyrenes” to distinguish them from the “GIs” of the Army. “So we have an affiliation with them through Tom and his background,”
“Obviously,” Middendorf added, “Ave Maria University is named after our Blessed Mother. And so Mary’s Marines is how all this came about. But the concept, the program, is really what’s most important.”
Explaining the concept for Mary’s Marines, Middendorf outlined the two aspects of the program. “The first aspect is what we ask our students to do. This first aspect really came from Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen. He talks a lot about Eucharistic adoration. He spent his life promoting it,” Middendorf said, indicating the original inspiration came from listening to Archbishop Sheen’s talks.
“Sheen emphasized that hour in front of the Blessed Sacrament will be a torrent of understanding and wisdom,” Middendorf explained. “He would say that his best ideas came from the time spent before the Blessed Sacrament, and, really, through the Holy Spirit. And I can echo that. So this idea for Mary’s Marines happened when I was before the Blessed Sacrament because I saw the benefits firsthand to all of our students.”
One key goal at Ave Maria University is to form the whole person — through the students’ intellect, love of truth and love of God.
“When someone is fully formed like that, then they can really discern what are their God-given gifts that God has uniquely given to them to go change the world around them and to be that light in the darkness.”
Middendorf thought “the best place to make those discernments for your gifts that God has given you uniquely” is “before the Blessed Sacrament. By encouraging our students to do that, we would contribute to their formation in what we’re called to do here at the university.” That became the heart for launching Mary’s Marines.
“The second aspect is what we give to the students to encourage and equip them,” Middendorf continued. If they make this commitment to spending 15, 30, 45 or 60 minutes every day before the Blessed Sacrament, they receive five building blocks as “a way to fortify them.”
Everyone who makes this commitment is mtached with a religious sister who prays for them. When Middendorf first came to the university in 2022, he and his staff spent a whole summer calling every Poor Clare monastery in the country and about 30 other religious orders to ask for sisters or nuns willing to spiritually adopt students and pray for them individually every day. That sister or nun was given a photo and little biography of the particular student whom they would be praying for, and the student would be able to write to the religious.
“We knew the power of those holy sisters and nuns’ prayers for these students, and helping them when they’re spending that time before the Blessed Sacrament, and what those prayers would mean for those individual students,” Middendorf said. Hundreds of sisters stepped up to pray for individual students.
“It’s amazing how many of these students have changed their major or added a minor in theology.”
Each Mary’s Marine is given a leather-bound Augustine Institute Bible in a Year. Middendorf believes “that the normative way God communicates with us is through Scripture. If they’re going through the Bible in a year while they’re in front of the Blessed Sacrament, it’s a really powerful way for God to speak to them. So we equip them with that.”
In addition, a Mass is offered for each student’s intentions.
Plus, every student receives a copy of The Shadow of His Wings (Ignatius Press), the inspiring story of a German seminarian drafted into Hitler’s army. “It’s about the power of one holy nun’s prayer for this German seminarian through the war and one of the most amazing life stories I’ve ever read,” Middendorf said. The seminarian became a priest due to the daily prayers of the nun who spiritually adopted him.
There are also special events on campus especially attended by Mary’s Marines. For instance, every semester, a particular feast day — such as Our Lady of the Rosary on Oct. 7 — is celebrated with Mass, talks and a Eucharistic procession. All students are encouraged to attend, especially the Mary’s Marines contingent.
Spring brings the big celebration of the Solemnity of the Annunciation, March 25, probably the greatest feast day that the university celebrates. It also happens to be founder Monaghan’s birthday. “Liturgically, it’s one of the most important dates,” Middendorf said. “On that day, we’ll invite all of Mary’s Marines to play an important role as it relates to the Blessed Sacrament, with a procession, adoration, Mass and talks.”
The Marines, along with staff, faculty, students, parents of the students, and the whole town and parish, are also part of the current Marian consecration using Father Gaitley’s 33 days to Morning Glory that concluded with a public consecration on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception at the Ave Maria Parish.
And Mary’s Marines’ mission relates to the current National Eucharistic Revival. “If you look at what the USCCB is promoting as far as the Eucharist in the Revival, it’s an amazing time in the Church, and we need to support that with our students,” Middendorf said.
Students’ Lives Changed
The reactions of students confirm this.
Sophomore Blaise Carney told the Register that making a Holy Hour every day has completely changed his life. “By going to visit Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, my relationship and friendship with Jesus has deepened beyond anything I could have done outside of his presence. It’s where I get my peace; it’s where I hand him all my worries or cares,” he emphasized. “It’s where I’ve made my friends; it’s where I’ve found my jobs; it’s where I learned to love; it’s where I’ve been loved; it’s where I’m formed and it’s where I’m truly happy.”
Carney has found, as he put it, that he would be “a complete mess every day if I didn’t get time with Our Lord.”
He appreciates the spiritual help from the religious sister’s prayers for him. “Demons are trying to drag us to hell, and I’ll take all the help I can get to avoid that.” Holy Hours have increased his “understanding [of] the friendship that we have in Our Lord in the Eucharist.”
Clare Tupta, a senior theology major, told the Register that being given the opportunity to daily be at the feet of Our Lord in adoration is “the greatest gift” that she has “ever received and one that I hope I never take for granted.” She believes that “Ave Maria is richly blessed in that we have 24/7 constant access to being face-to-face with Jesus in the Most Holy Eucharist. It is impossible to leave any amount of time in front of the monstrance unchanged, and I can confidently say that my life has radically changed and continues to change as a result of being immersed in the graces of Eucharistic adoration.”
Tupta also shared that the thought of having a spiritual mother interceding for her daily “is very consoling. It is a great gift to have a bride of Christ lifting you up in her intentions to her beloved spouse. We are all seeking union with him and to think that we are being prayed for by someone who knows union with Christ so well is an immense honor and joy.” She also finds Bible in a Year “immensely helpful in guiding me through incorporating daily Scripture in my prayer life. It played a key part in unveiling my need for God’s word in my day-to-day life.” Tupta said she really enjoys “seeing all of the parts of the Old and New Testament fall into place like one big love story.”
From hearing many positive stories from students on how adoration as Mary’s Marines has positively affected their spiritual lives, Middendorf concluded, “In the sea of spiritual chaos that we’re bombarded with, adoration really can be a sure anchor in today’s world. Just as the U.S. Marine Corps’ motto is Semper Fidelis (‘Always Faithful’), we want our students to be faithful to their daily Eucharistic adoration with our Lord. When one is truly faithful and consistent in their prayer, it can be a source of great joy and peace in the face of conflict. As one of Mary’s Marines, our students learn to encounter Our Lord daily in the Eucharist and to trust in his faithfulness, no matter what comes their way.”
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