Regnum Christi movement strives to grow its presence in the Diocese of Knoxville
By Gabrielle Nolan
Margaret Merrill believes that the Knoxville chapter of Regnum Christi came into being because of the Holy Spirit.
When she moved to Knoxville, there was only one other woman in the area who was a part of Regnum Christi, an international organization that is present in 38 countries and boasts 25,000 members worldwide.
“We met and had lunch and dreamed of maybe one day having a team of our own here,” Mrs. Merrill said. “We just patiently waited, and eventually it started to grow.”
Today, there are seven active members in Knoxville, with one more discerning.
Mrs. Merrill, who is a parishioner at St. Thomas the Apostle in Lenoir City, became involved with Regnum Christi in the early 1990s when she was living in Maryland.
“I was, at that time, probably about 32 and really searching,” Mrs. Merrill said. “I wanted more in my faith… I wanted to search for holiness.”
“What I found was all this formation,” she continued. “It was just so intriguing to me to see these ladies that lived this life of prayer, and yet they were dynamic and apostolic, and they just had everything that I desired to be. So, it was very attractive to me.”
‘Apostolic in my heart’
Regnum Christi “is a spiritual family and an apostolic body made up of four different vocations that all share the same Christ-centered, contemplative, and evangelizing charism.
Regnum Christi members seek to grow in a personal relationship with Christ through prayer, live holiness in their vocation and state of life, build a vibrant community of apostles, and evangelize with Christian boldness,” according to the Catholic lay ecclesial movement’s website.
This Catholic federation, which is approved by the Holy See, consists of four vocations:
- Legionaries of Christ, who are missionary priests
- Consecrated women
- Lay consecrated men
- Lay members
Currently, only lay members reside in the Diocese of Knoxville.
For lay members’ vocation within Regnum Christi, there are five key elements: spiritual life, formation, apostolate, personal and communal accompaniment, and team life.
The small Knoxville team falls under the diaspora of Atlanta, which has multiple teams of men and women, as well as the Legionaries of Christ.
“We’re not large enough yet for the priests and the lay consecrated to come and support [our] section until our numbers are there,” Mrs. Merrill said. “We travel to Atlanta for anything big that maybe Regnum Christi is having.”
Legionaries of Christ will travel from Atlanta, as well, to conduct retreats, spiritual direction, or other events.
Mrs. Merrill currently serves as the Knoxville team leader, a position that runs for about three years.
“I am apostolic in my heart; I’m always and have always wanted to talk about Jesus and share Jesus with others, and Regnum Christi gives me that platform, that foundation to be able to get myself ordered enough to make beautiful things happen like speakers and retreats and things like that,” she said.
“We have to grow because we’re in the diaspora, we have to grow slowly. Initially it was just the team leader, and then as we started to grow we have what’s called a study circle. Because Regnum Christi is about forming ourselves so that we can form others, that we can go out and become disciples, apostles, and bring the Good News to the whole world,” Mrs. Merrill said.
Carolyn Krings, a parishioner at St. John Neumann in Farragut, serves the group with her natural creativity.
“I try to pull the team together to do any type of events that need creative touch or just pull us together in order to get together and just spend time with each other,” she said.
“I feel like [Regnum Christi] brought the spirit for me; the Holy Spirit was brought to me in a true and real experience that it brings such joy that you want to pass that along,” Mrs. Krings continued. “It’s a formation that I have not experienced anywhere in the Church before. But it took the qualities that I already had and showed me where my strengths were.”
Marie Ward, a parishioner at Holy Ghost in Knoxville, holds an administrative position on the team.
“I handle the checking account because we are a nonprofit organization and any type of organizing that needs to be done,” she said.
“Regnum Christi just really spoke to my heart. There just were some aspects of it that took me, I feel like, to a deeper spirituality,” Mrs. Ward said. “To me, the team, the Legionary priests that are involved, and even the support that we get out of Atlanta, it just is a beautiful example to me of what Catholicism is and about and being part of a community.”
The Regnum Christi spirituality is both contemplative and evangelizing.
“We seek to be men and women of interior life, lovers of prayer, and we recognize the primacy of God’s action in our growth in holiness and in the apostolate. … We live as missionary disciples who seek to proclaim the kingdom and bring the light of the Gospel to everyone,” according to its website.
Weekly encounters among the Knoxville group allow for spiritual discussion over the Sunday readings, and case studies are when members share where they’ve seen God in their lives recently.
“You need three to have an encounter, like the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, that Trinity, that sense of conversation where it’s not just between two,” Mrs. Merrill said.
“The amount of growth that comes from setting time aside each week at our encounters is just tremendous,” Mrs. Merrill said. “It’s just a game-changer when you can really dive into the Gospel and into our case studies and just hear everybody’s thoughts, and then you go to Mass on Sunday and you hear the homily; it’s so enriching in your life.”
On a larger scale, the group also hosts retreats for women and has an annual Lent by Light Evening of Reflection. Open encounters allow new women to see what Regnum Christi is about.
“We invite whoever would like to come and experience what is Regnum Christi and what are their encounters like, their encounter with Christ like, so we have times for people to come and enjoy that with us,” Mrs. Merrill said. “We’re always growing as a team; we’re growing as sisters in Christ during encounters and just learning from one another. We try to make special times where we can open up and make sure that we remember people are new and have questions and set aside time for that.”
For future events, Mrs. Merrill said that they “are always thinking and planning when the Holy Spirit guides us, just always trying to be in that prayerful state of what He would like for us to do next.”
When formally joining the Regnum Christi Federation, the term used is “associating.”
Associating can happen at a silent retreat or when a Legionary priest is visiting for a reflection.
Mrs. Krings recalled her association, where she was given a Bible, a cross, and flowers.
“There was a ceremony in with the Mass that just asked if we were freely joining,” Mrs. Krings said. “Then the women that were there, they renewed their pledge to Regnum Christi.”
In addition, the group in Atlanta hosts monthly reflections that include a Mass where new members can associate.
‘Looking for connection’
After participating in Regnum Christi for nearly two decades, Mrs. Merrill describes the national movement as a “game-changer” for her faith.
“When you are accompanied by sisters like I am, these beautiful women that are all trying to strive for holiness… it’s formed me as a young mom with young kids who was really struggling in my marriage, in my kids, just trying to figure out life. It gave me so much formation.”
Mrs. Ward desires for more individuals to take advantage of what Regnum Christi has to offer.
“It’s not known very well here within the diocese, but I have great aspirations that hopefully through some of these events… there’ll be women to hear the message,” she shared.
“It’s just been a beautiful community, the ladies that I’ve met here in Knoxville as well as the women that I’ve met in Atlanta,” Mrs. Ward continued. “It’s what the Lord envisioned, I think, for us just to be able to live each day and be able to utilize it as a tool to remain close to Him.”
Mrs. Ward believes that a lack of God in society makes individual crosses a burden for people to carry on their own.
“I know for me having other women walking this journey with me that are just open and honest with me really helps my spirituality because it’s very easy to, at least for me, to fall kind of into that victim mentality,” she said.
Mrs. Merrill noted that men also are encouraged to contact her about forming a group.
“We do not have a men’s group, but it’s on our radar,” she said. “We are already brainstorming, hoping to find ways to be able to just expose people to what Regnum Christi is and see if this is possibly your spirituality. … We would love to have a men’s group.”
“I would encourage anybody that is looking for connection to just come,” Mrs. Krings said. “You don’t have to join, you just encounter the living Lord and see if it’s something that God is calling you to. It’s not any of us calling you, it’s the Lord calling you, and it takes time.”
To learn more about Regnum Christi, visit regnumchristi.org/en.
And for inquiries about the Knoxville chapter, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.