Our Founders & History
Harold V. Colgan was born in Elizabeth, NJ on November 27, 1894. He was ordained in 1920 after completing his studies at the Immaculate Conception Seminary at Seton Hall University in South Orange, NJ. Father Colgan was assigned to a number of parishes in various towns in the Newark Diocese, and he authored three prayer books before 1941. In early 1946 he became Pastor of St. Mary’s Church in Plainfield and started experiencing a serious heart ailment. In the first week of December of that year he was hospitalized and only given a few months to live. On the first Saturday in December he requested a statue of the Blessed Mother to be brought into his room. The next day on Sunday December 8th, the feast of the Immaculate Conception, he prayed for “an extension of his life” and in return he promised to spread devotion to Mary. Within a very short time, he was back at St. Mary’s Church fulfilling his duties as Pastor. A doctor from the hospital saw Father Colgan celebrating Mass and spoke to the Bishop. Father Colgan was ordered by the Bishop to go to Johns Hopkins Medical Center for an evaluation that ultimately showed he was cured.
The appearance and messages of Mary at Fatima, Portugal in 1917 were not well known in the United States at this time. Father Colgan read a magazine article about Our Lady’s appearance and was amazed when he read that she stated that “…Russia will be converted…” Since the “Cold War” with the militantly atheistic Communists and their Red Army in the Soviet Union (formerly Russia) was starting to occur after the Second World War, he told his parishioners that he wanted to start devotions specifically to Our Lady of Fatima. He preached from the altar that he wanted to start a “Blue Army of Our Lady of Fatima” that would be a spiritual force against the atheistic policies of the Soviet Union and their Red Army. Parishioners were encouraged to wear blue ribbons or blue clothing as a reminder of this devotion.
He heard about another New Jersey resident, John M. Haffert, who had founded a Scapular Society and had developed a Pledge Card after conversations with Sister Lucia, the sole survivor of the three children who witnessed and spoke to Our Lady at Fatima. He invited John to speak to his parishioners and tell them about Our Lady of Fatima and the Pledge. The Pledge was to make a morning offering, wear the Scapular, and pray the Rosary daily. At the time, the Five First Saturday devotions were optional, but have since become mandatory. The Pledge quickly became known as the Blue Army Pledge and it started to spread from parish to parish, first in NJ, then in surrounding states. Soon, it became a worldwide movement known in the USA and some countries as the Blue Army of Our Lady of Fatima, and in other countries as the World Apostolate of Fatima. The numbers were soon in the millions and the final estimates were anywhere from 30 to 40 MILLION people who had signed this Pledge to Our Lady.
John established the Ava Maria Institute on his farm in Washington, NJ which served as an administrative center for sending and receiving the Pledge cards, handling correspondence, and they soon began publishing Soul Magazine in 1950. Numerous programs to spread the Message of Fatima were started and they were both travelling around the world to help spread this message. In 1954, Father Colgan’s title was elevated to Monsignor by Pope Pius XII. Around this same time period, Msgr. Colgan ardently desired to purchase land near the Fatima, Portugal Shrine and even sold his personal automobile to obtain some of the needed funds. Property directly behind the Fatima Shrine was purchased and a hotel with two chapels, a Latin rite and Byzantine rite, was built and was named “Domus Pacis”, meaning House of Peace. John Haffert was a tremendous help with the building of Domus Pacis and also started Blue Army Tours to take pilgrims to Fatima and other religious sites. At one point Blue Army Tours even had their own airplane, named “Queen of the World.”
In 1970, Msgr. Colgan and John Haffert solicited the Blue Army members and, with an initial down payment from John Haffert, they purchased the ancient, miraculous, Russian Icon known as the Icon of Kazan from an English woman. It was displayed in Domus Pacis until the early 1990’s when it was requested by Pope John Paul II who returned it to the Russia Orthodox Church in 2004.
Msgr. Harold V. Colgan passed away in April 1972, after living for another 26 years after praying for an extension of his life and in return, a promise to spread devotion to Mary. As a Priest who loved baseball, his 26 extra years which included founding the Blue Army with its’ 40 million members and spreading devotion to Mary was the equivalent of winning the World Series.
In the early 1970’s, John Haffert and his wife donated the farm they owned in Washington, NJ to the Blue Army and a large Church with a towering roof and a large statue of Mary at the peak 130’ above ground was erected on the property. It is known today as the National Blue Army Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima, Dedicated to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
John went on to write a number of books including “Dear Bishop” which is a history of the Blue Army from its’ founding in 1947 until 1982. He was able to witness the fall of the Communist Soviet Union in 1991 and nine months later, with a few hundred others, returned to Red Square in Moscow openly carrying a statue of Our Lady of Fatima. With the efforts of millions of Blue Army members praying and making sacrifices, he was witnessing the start of the conversion of Russia as promised by Our Lady of Fatima following the Consecration of Russia by Pope John Paul II with the Bishops of the world on March 25, 1984.
With the presence of the International Pilgrim Virgin Statue at his bedside, John Haffert passed away on October 31, 2001. Monsignor Colgan had been previously interred in a crypt in the Holy House on the Shrine property. Following John’s death, both Msgr. Harold Colgan and John M. Haffert were buried side by side in the newly built Blue Army Shrine Cemetery on November 10, 2001.
The Blue Army of Our Lady of Fatima officially became The World Apostolate of Fatima and was named a Public International Association of the Faithful “ad experimentum” by Pope Benedict XVI on October 7, 2005. Five years later, on October 7, 2010, the “experimental” period was over. The Pontifical Council for the Laity decreed: 1. The confirmation of the erection of the apostolate as a Public International Association of the Faithful ; and 2. The definitive approbation of the Statutes of the association, duly authenticated and deposited in its Archives.