When I learned that Pope Benedict XVI appointed me archbishop of Baltimore, my thoughts turned to our founder, Venerable Michael McGivney. I prayed that he would continue to intercede for me in my role as supreme chaplain and now as shepherd of the nation’s oldest diocese. I commended to his prayers my fellow chaplains, who serve the Order so faithfully, as well as the priests in Baltimore and in Bridgeport, where I have served for the past 11 happy years. In the same breath, I asked our founder to pray for the supreme knight and for all Knights and their families, giving thanks for how the Order serves and strengthens the Church in her mission of spreading the Gospel anew.
IN SERVICE TO THE CHURCH
After this prayer, it occurred to me that Father McGivney’s final preparations for priestly ordination took place at St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore. There he grew in the human and priestly virtues that were so evident in his ministry. There he developed the strength of character, wise leadership and holy determination that were essential ingredients in the founding of the Knights of Columbus 130 years ago. And it was there, in the Cathedral (now Basilica) of the Assumption in Baltimore, that Father McGivney was ordained to the sacred priesthood in 1877 by Archbishop (later Cardinal) James Gibbons.
Since the basilica is connected to the archbishop’s residence, I will have a daily reminder to give thanks for the gift of Father McGivney’s priestly vocation and pray with renewed fervor for his canonization. Each time I am in the basilica, I will be reminded of the fruitfulness of Father McGivney’s priestly service. I have no doubt that his continued intercession will aid my service to the Archdiocese of Baltimore and to the Order.
I often think about how God provided for the Church through Father McGivney’s ministry. The Order he founded is a source of great strength and vitality for the whole Catholic community. Just as Father McGivney envisioned, the Church is strengthened by Knights who live their faith so as to be better husbands, fathers and parishioners that contribute to the common good. Just as Father McGivney did not hesitate to address by word and deed the issues confronting the Church in his day, so too do the Knights speak eloquently and forcefully in defending the right to life, the truth and dignity of the vocation of marriage and family life, the priesthood, and religious liberty.
In the spirit of Father McGivney, the Knights put the Church’s teaching and sacramental graces into action by serving those in need and by helping the Church to sustain her mission of faith, worship and service. It is easy to see the vision and the hand of Father McGivney in the ways the Knights of Columbus serves the Church. And any family that experiences security and peace of mind because of the Order’s insurance and financial services also has our founder to thank.
Although Father McGivney lived in an era very different from our own, there are lessons that we can learn from his day and age. Around the time of Father McGivney’s ordination, Archbishop Gibbons spoke of the waves of immigrants who were building a young nation and contributing greatly to the growth of the Church in the United States. The archbishop also spoke of the God-given freedom that the Church enjoyed in the United States as a condition for its rapid growth and increasing strength. Gibbons’ leadership no doubt influenced Father McGivney when he returned to Connecticut. McGivney championed the cause of immigrants and ably represented the Church’s teaching in civic life, despite widespread anti-Catholicism. He exhibited the same sort of confident and prudent leadership that marked the Baltimore prelate who ordained him.
These lessons must not be lost on me as I prepare to serve the Archdiocese of Baltimore with its diverse Catholic population and as I continue to be involved in the U.S. bishops’ efforts to defend religious freedom. As Catholic leaders and citizens, both Cardinal Gibbons and Father McGivney were keenly aware that they were stewards of a precious heritage of recognizing and respecting religious liberty. Archbishop John Carroll, the first archbishop of Baltimore and the cousin of Charles Carroll, the only Catholic to sign the Declaration of Independence, led the way in establishing the Catholic Church in a new nation “conceived in liberty.” Living in the shadow of America’s first cathedral founded by Archbishop Carroll, I shall be reminded of this heritage every day.
Now, as I prepare to begin my service in Baltimore, I ask three favors of the Knights of Columbus family:
First, I ask your prayers for the canonization of Father McGivney. We owe him much, and one way to express our debt of gratitude is to pray daily that he will soon be raised to the dignity of the altar. Second, please pray for religious liberty. How appropriate for us to pray the rosary for this important cause during the month of May. Let us ask Mary to intercede for us as we seek to defend and promote religious freedom in the United States and around the world. Lastly, I ask for your prayers for me and for my service to the Church in Baltimore, and I sincerely thank you for truly being “the strong right arm of the Church!”