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A Fitting Tribute


Hundreds gather at St. Mary’s Church for anniversary of Father McGivney

At a Mass marking the 125th anniversary of the death of Venerable Father Michael J. McGivney, Knights and families from throughout Connecticut gathered in St. Mary’s Church in New Haven, where the Order was founded in 1882.

The principal celebrant and homilist for the Mass on Friday, Aug. 14, was Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, the most recent successor of Father McGivney as the Order’s supreme chaplain. He spoke of his predecessor in deeply personal terms that brought the founder’s person and ministry to life.

“I like to think that Father McGivney’s priesthood models the teaching of recent popes,” the archbishop explained in his homily. “St. John Paul II said that the priest’s personality must be a bridge to Christ, and indeed Father McGivney’s unassuming, lighthearted, yet determined character attracted many to the Catholic faith and to St. Mary’s Church. When Pope Francis tells priests to acquire ‘the smell of the sheep’ and ‘to bring the Gospel to the margins of society,’ I think of Father McGivney. He loved the priesthood deeply and lived it for others, including widows, orphans, and outcasts.”

At the conclusion of Mass, Archbishop Lori was joined by Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson, other supreme officers and John Walshe, a great grandnephew of Father McGivney, at the sarcophagus near the entrance of the church, where the remains of Father McGivney are interred. The archbishop incensed the sarcophagus as church bells tolled, and then led the congregation in prayers for canonization.

Hundreds gather at St. Mary’s Church for anniversary of Father McGivney

Father McGivney passed away Aug. 14, 1890, two days past his 38th birthday, in the rectory of St. Thomas parish in Thomaston, Conn., where he served as pastor for six years. He was also pastor at the time of Immaculate Conception parish in nearby Terryville. Previously, he was assistant parish priest for seven years at St. Mary’s, where he gathered a handful of parish men in the church’s basement to found the Knights of Columbus.

The noon Mass was highlighted by other ceremonies and pageantry. A Fourth Degree honor guard of 16 Sir Knights led the processional and recessional, and four Knights carried a 4-foot statue of Father McGivney on a platform up the stairs of the church at the beginning of Mass and back down again at the end. During Mass, the statue was placed on a column near the pulpit, visible to all as Archbishop Lori delivered his homily. Also placed near the sanctuary was an original painting of Father McGivney, in Mass vestments and elevating a chalice, by contemporary Italian artist Antonella Cappuccio.

Hundreds gather at St. Mary’s Church for anniversary of Father McGivney

Among the concelebrants were three Dominican priests who staff the parish – Father John Paul Walker, who had become pastor of St. Mary’s two weeks earlier; Father Joseph Allen, the former pastor, and Father Jonathan Kalisch, director of chaplains and spiritual development for the Knights of Columbus.

In welcoming remarks, Father Walker said that he was happily aware of the long association of the Knights with St. Mary’s and he looked forward to building on that relationship.

Among the hundreds attending the Mass were Connecticut State Council officers, including State Deputy Thomas J. Vita, who brought up gifts at the offertory with his wife, Rosemary.

Speaking of the profound influence Father McGivney had on the early Knights in embracing the Order’s principles, Archbishop Lori said, “These men would not have committed to the principle of charity had they not seen in Father McGivney a man of tireless pastoral charity, who reflected God’s love through acts of personal generosity and compassion. These men would not have committed to the principle of unity had they not seen how Father McGivney brought together the people of St. Mary’s parish and how he served as a source of unity in the wider community of New Haven. Nor would they have committed to the principle of fraternity had they not witnessed how Father McGivney was not only the father but also the brother to his parishioners and indeed to anyone in need.”

He added that nearly 1.9 million Knights worldwide today continue to look to Father McGivney for inspiration and guidance as they live out his vision for the Order.

Concluding his homily with personal reflections, the archbishop said that as supreme chaplain, he considers Father McGivney to be “my parish priest, the parish priest of my soul. Every morning I pray to him and I pray that he be canonized, as I know you do. Every day I load his plate with all kinds of intentions – some are personal, some pertain to the Order, and some to my ministry. How earnestly we should pray that he be raised to the dignity of the altar.”

The cause of sainthood for Father McGivney was opened in 1997, and he was declared a Venerable Servant of God by Pope Benedict XVI in March 2008, in recognition of his life of heroic virtue. One Vatican-approved miracle through his intercession is needed for beatification, and another miracle is needed for canonization.