Margaret Johnson, the current president of the Sodality Union, speaks to members of the union. (Photos courtesy of Father Pawel Sass)
Margaret Johnson, the current president of the Sodality Union, speaks to members of the union. (Photos courtesy of Father Pawel Sass)
It may seem that pews and vestments never get dirty, or that flowers always appear miraculously on the altar, but for many parishes in the Archdiocese of Washington, it is the members of parish sodalities that take care of those details that help keep the parish running. 

This year, the Archdiocese of Washington Sodality Union, a group of 67 parish sodalities, celebrated its 100thanniversary with a Mass at the Saint John Paul II National Shrine in Washington, celebrated by Washington Auxiliary Bishop Roy Campbell, Jr. The Sodality Union brings together leaders of the individual sodalities to meet once a month at a different parish in the archdiocese to pray and give updates on the different member groups.

The members of the Sodality Union, who are mostly women, share a strong devotion to the Blessed Mother, and the members’ goal is to love and serve Jesus through Mary. 

“We use her as our example of being a good disciple – a listener – one who paid attention to Jesus and did things that Jesus would want her to do as his mother,” said Elizabeth Colston, a member of the Sodality Union.

The union consists of two main branches: spiritual life and apostolic life. Sodality members make prayer a priority in their lives, praying the rosary, the daily office, the Memorare, a weekly Miraculous Medal Novena, the Angelus, and Divine Mercy prayers at different times throughout the day.

“It organizes your prayer life…there are certain prayers you say that if you don’t say them every day your day does not seem complete,” said the current Sodality Union president, Margaret Johnson. “You become more sensitive to prayers that you should say, and they just become a part of your life.”

Johnson has a long history with sodality, as her mother was also a member, and she remembers praying the Miraculous Medal Novenas with her. Because of her relationship with her own mother, Johnson said she finds it easy to have a devotion to the Blessed Mother.

“I am thinking that as much as my mother cared about us, if you have a spiritual mother, who has a greater devotion to us because of her position, the Blessed Mother is always with you and would be very sensitive to your needs and your prayers to her, and I am sure a good intercessor to her Son,” she said.

From that shared life of prayer, the sodalists go out to serve their parish and the world. 

“We believe and we know that if you pray, you will be guided to do those things that the Lord expects you to do, and that is to be concerned about your fellow man,” said Johnson. 

Father Pawel Sass, the moderator of the Sodality Union and pastor of Our Lady Queen of Peace Parish in Washington, said he can always count on them to help with things like flowers, vestments and caring for the youth of the parish.

“Whatever I need, I know if I call my sodality, the ladies of the sodality, they will take care of it,” he said. 

The parish sodality at St. Margaret of Scotland in Seat Pleasant, where former Sodality Union president Alice Wilson is a member, hosts special weekly rosaries in the months of October and May, including a living rosary and a children’s rosary. They also take care of purchasing and cleaning vestments as well as cleaning the pews, windowsills, and other parts of the church.

“Whatever else Father may ask, we do to help out…to keep the parish going,” Wilson said.

And although they help with whatever is asked of them, they are also proactive in trying to meet the needs of the community.

“Everywhere you turn there is a need,” Wilson said, adding that begins with the youngest and extends to the oldest members of the community. “There is a big, big need. The need is not that you wait to be asked. If you see this, then say something. Maybe someone can step forward.” 

Wilson first joined sodality while she was in high school in the 1950s, and started attending Sodality Union several years later after her sister invited her to a meeting.

“I enjoyed meeting the different people in the archdiocese, you knew people in your own parishes, but this way you had them coming from all different parishes,” she said.

Wilson said the biggest change she has seen in Sodality Union in the years that she has been involved is the shift from its members mostly being women who did not work to most members working in some capacity. She said it has made it harder to fill the leadership positions in the individual sodalities and the Sodality Union, and they have had to adjust their meeting times from weekdays to Saturday mornings. 

Noting that many of the members of the Sodality Union are older, Father Sass said, “I am inspired by their dedication, their willingness to serve.” He also believes they are “a perfect example for our youth,” showing how to be “committed to something for a long time.”

The Sodality Union also does philanthropic work, including a scholarship fund named for the late Cardinal James Hickey, who served as the archbishop of Washington from 1980 to 2000, that goes toward scholarships for Catholic schools in the archdiocese. Most affiliate sodalities support a pro-life pregnancy center and contribute money each year toward the Mass for shut-ins. Recently, the Sodality Union has also been sending dresses to children in Africa who cannot afford them. St. Joseph’s Parish in Largo alone donated more than 900 dresses.

“We do everything behind the scenes so that the Gospel of Jesus Christ may be spread,” said Father Sass.