YEARS AGO, a fellow priest said to me, “I’m counting the days until the bishop sends me somewhere else.” Only recently ordained, I ventured to ask, “What’s the problem?” He answered, “I really don’t like the folks in my parish. They’re pushy and opinionated.” He added, “They know I want out, and I guess that’s making things harder.” Not exactly a recipe for success!
In contrast, consider the generous and loving ministry of Blessed Michael J. McGivney, our beloved founder and an exemplary parish priest. Father McGivney both liked and loved his parishioners. By the dedication of his priestly life, he showed that he truly wanted to be among them. Father McGivney made a tremendous impact by his powerful preaching and reverent celebration of the sacraments, but also by his empathy and respect. He exemplifies the cooperative and loving way we priests should relate to the laity.
Father McGivney was, by all accounts, deeply engaged with the parishioners of St. Mary’s Church in New Haven and, later, St. Thomas in Thomaston. He ministered to his people with single-hearted attention and remarkable energy. In organizing plays, baseball games, parish fairs and other activities, he showed that he enjoyed being with his parishioners. Indeed, Father McGivney did not seek to do everything for his parishioners. Rather, he worked with his parishioners, and together, with God’s grace, they created a healthy, vibrant community of faith, worship and service.
He also showed respect for his younger parishioners, not only by defending them when they were maligned in an erroneous news account, but also by speaking to them directly about dangers to their faith and morals. Humble, friendly and upbeat, Father McGivney asserted himself when necessary and could be appropriately stern when people’s spiritual welfare was at stake. He respected his people too much to pander to them.
‘Father McGivney worked with his parishioners, and
together, with God’sgrace, they created
a healthy, vibrantcommunity of faith,
worship and service.’
But it was in founding the Knights of Columbus that Father McGivney’s pastoral love for his people glowed most brightly. He had witnessed the destitution of widows and their children when fathers died prematurely, often due to industrial accidents. He also saw the need to help the men of his parish strengthen their faith and be better husbands and fathers. From his pastoral concern sprang the Knights of Columbus: a fraternity of men, united in charity, robustly living the faith while providing for their families’ long-term financial security.
It was not always smooth sailing. In those first years, Father McGivney encountered criticism as well as division among the Knights themselves. For a time, it appeared his project would fail. But Father McGivney did not crumble or seek to dominate. Instead, he showed real leadership and perseverance by insisting that the Knights of Columbus remain a lay-led organization. In this, he was well ahead of his time — anticipating the call of the Second Vatican Council that the laity take a greater lead in the life of the Church and in transforming society.
Then, after a slow start, the Knights of Columbus began to grow rapidly. Father McGivney did not regard this as a moment of vindication or an opportunity to grasp for power and influence. In fact, he did the opposite. He resigned as supreme secretary and retained only his role as chaplain. He did not seek to control the Knights of Columbus but only to keep it true to the mission and Gospel principles upon which he founded the Order: charity and unity, as well as fraternity.
Still today, Blessed Michael McGivney relates to us with pastoral love and respect as he intercedes for us and inspires us to embrace our mission anew.
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