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    A Tale of Two Orders

    The Dominican friars at St. Mary’s Parish have carried on Father McGivney’s legacy for 135 years

    By John Burger 7/1/2021
    The Dominican friars of St. Mary’s Priory — including Father Jonathan Kalisch (center), prior, and Father John Paul Walker (second from left), pastor — gather outside St. Mary’s Church in New Haven. Photo by Tamino Petelinšek


    TWO YEARS AFTER Blessed Michael McGivney founded the Knights of Columbus at St. Mary’s Church in New Haven, Conn., he was made a pastor in Thomaston, a town in northern Connecticut. And two years after that, in May 1886, St. Mary’s Parish was entrusted to the pastoral care of the Order of Preachers. Since that time, a special bond has grown between the religious order that St. Dominic founded eight centuries ago and the Order of the Knights of Columbus.

    “To be at St. Mary’s is to be inseparable from the legacy of Blessed Michael McGivney,” said Dominican Father John Paul Walker, pastor of St. Mary’s since 2015 and chaplain of San Salvador Council 1. “This is something that I think every Dominican pastor, every Dominican friar here for 135 years, has realized — certainly even more so in recent times.”

    In the months before his death on Aug. 14, 1890, Father McGivney spent several weeks in New Haven to seek treatment, and it is likely that he stayed with the Dominicans at his old parish. At Father McGivney’s funeral in Thomaston, Dominican Father Arthur Higgins — then pastor of St. Mary’s — delivered a 40-minute eulogy recounting his late friend’s ministry as a parish priest. The Waterbury Evening Democrat reported Aug. 18 that Father Higgins emphasized “the great affection held for him by his parishioners,” adding that he spoke with “great feeling,” such that “many were moved to tears.”

    Nearly a century later, during the Knights’ centennial in 1982, Father McGivney’s remains were moved from a family plot in St. Joseph’s Cemetery in Waterbury to St. Mary’s Church — and it was discovered that Father McGivney had been buried wearing two scapulars: the brown scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel and also the white scapular of St. Dominic.

    A Dominican friar, Father Gabriel B. O’Donnell, was appointed postulator of Father McGivney’s cause for canonization in 1997. He later prepared a Positio — a 1,000-page document making the case for Father McGivney’s heroic virtue and holiness.

    Other Dominicans have worked with the Supreme Council over the years to assist with Knights’ spiritual formation programs, even as the Order has supported St. Mary’s Church in various ways — including the funding of major restoration projects at the church in 1982 and 2019.

    In anticipation of the beatification last year, the parish collaborated with the Order to install a series of panels next to the church, telling the story of Father McGivney’s life and legacy. Knights of San Salvador Council 1 also offer tours of the church to visiting pilgrims, and parishioners regularly recite the prayer for Father McGivney’s canonization together at the end of Mass.

    This year, a week after the Order of Preachers marks the 800th anniversary of St. Dominic’s death on Aug. 6, the Dominican community and parishioners at St. Mary’s will celebrate Blessed Michael McGivney’s feast day for the first time.

    “We encourage people to come and pray at the tomb, and to bring their intentions to Blessed Michael, to ask for his intercession — especially for loved ones who need a miracle,” Father Walker said.

    “To be the pastor of the church where this saintly man once ministered is something that is never far from my mind,” he added. “It’s a constant reminder and inspiration — but it is also a challenge, because those of us who have come after Father McGivney bear the responsibility to live up to that standard.”


    JOHN BURGER writes for and is a member of Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky Council 16253 in New Haven, Conn.




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