Father James Sullivan’s lifelong devotion to Father Michael McGivney, founder of the Knights of Columbus, will “come full circle” when he concelebrates the K of C founder’s beatification Mass on Oct. 31. He has prayed for this moment for decades and has become a steward for promoting Father McGivney’s cause for sainthood within the Archdiocese of Hartford.
In May, the Vatican approved a miracle attributed to Father McGivney’s intercession, paving the way for his beatification. The miracle healed the unborn child of K of C General Agent Daniel Schachle and his wife, Michelle, who has previously received a fatal prenatal diagnosis. The beatification Mass will be celebrated by Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark at the Cathedral of St. Joseph in Hartford.
Father Sullivan has been hoping for, and praying for, this event for years.
“I have the grace to follow in his footsteps,” Father Sullivan said. “It’s very personal, it’s very intimate, and his life has become a passion for me.”
Sullivan is the current rector of the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Waterbury, Conn., where Father McGivney grew up in the 1800s. McGivney was born on the banks of the Naugatuck River in Waterbury, and attended the basilica with his family.
Like McGivney, Father Sullivan was born on the southside of Waterbury. In some ways, he grew up in the shadow of Father McGivney, so it was natural that Sullivan would join the Knights of Columbus. When he arrived at Providence College in 1978, Sullivan joined the college council there — the council had recently been revived by his uncle, Dominican Father Jack McMahon. Due to Father McMahon’s efforts, the council had more than 500 members — including Sullivan and his brothers.
A few years after Sullivan joined the council, during the centennial observances of the Knights of Columbus in 1982, Father McGivney’s remains were transported from Waterbury to St. Mary’s Church in New Haven. Sullivan was an altar server at the event, which was celebrated by Cardinal Agostino Casaroli. Sullivan refers to that day not only as a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” but as a gift.
Two years later, at age 23 years old, Sullivan entered seminary. He left soon after, not feeling the call to continue a priestly vocation. For the next 25 years, he operated a contracting business, but he never forgot about Father McGivney.
During that time, he bought a house in Thomaston, Conn., where he made it a practice to plant flowers at gravesites in St. Thomas Cemetery — the same sites that Father McGivney visited when he was a parish priest at local St. Thomas Church.
Sullivan was also active with the local Knights of Columbus council — his work included establishing a vocation program in honor of Father McGivney, as well as helping place a kneeler embedded with a relic of Father McGivney at St. Thomas Church.
But after 25 years, Sullivan again felt the calling to the priesthood. He believes that his response to that call was impacted by his family’s devotion to Father McGivney.
“My sister who is a nun, Sister Veronica, truly had a vision of Father McGivney,” he said.
Sister Veronica is a member of the Sisters of Life. She was inspired to pray to Father McGivney after another brother, Dennis, had a massive heart attack and was at risk for severe brain damage. Having previously worked as a cardiac nurse, Sister Veronica understood the severity of Dennis’s condition. Immediately, she turned to Father McGivney —and she says that she heard the holy priest’s voice respond.
[READ MORE: Sister Veronica’s miraculous conversation with Father McGivney]
Dennis would live another 12 years. And in gratitude, Sister Veronica and her mother began regularly offered prayers and planting flowers at the McGivney family grave at St. Joseph’s Cemetery in Waterbury. Father Sullivan thinks their prayers included petitions for his own vocation.
“My mother visited Father McGivney’s parents’ grave and planted flowers there for years. Just like every parent who prays for their children, I believe my mother — through the intercession of Father McGivney’s parents — was praying for her children.”
“And so I wouldn’t be surprised if my mother and my sister prayed for Father McGivney and his parents’ intercession on my behalf,” he continued.
Last summer, Father Sullivan was present for during the exhumation of Father McGivney’s remains, a process required during the beatification process. The experience, he said, was “one of the most significant moments of my life.”
[WATCH: Father Sullivan’s sermon about the exhumation]
How could it be anything else? Father McGivney, that humble priest from Connecticut has inspired Sullivan throughout his whole life. And according to Father Sullivan, it’s that humility, above all else, that makes Father McGivney special.
“Everything sprang from there,” he said. “He emptied himself and he lived for the people. His priesthood was one of service, not about himself. Because of that, great fruit was born! If he didn’t have that, nothing else would’ve happened.”
Want to learn more about Father McGivney’s legacy and influence on people around the world? Visit kofc.org/beatification.
Originally published in a weekly edition of Knightline, a resource for K of C leaders and members. To access Knightline’s archives, click here. Share your story with firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
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