As the new head of the chaplains program, Father Jonathan Kalisch, O.P., said he will be building on the groundbreaking work of Father John Grace, O.S.A., who has retired from his position as the first full-time director. With the title of Director of Chaplains and Spiritual Development, Father Kalisch began his work September 23rd at the Supreme Council headquarters in New Haven, where he will live at the Dominican Priory at St. Mary’s Church, on the grounds where Father Michael McGivney founded the Order in 1882.
Father Kalisch, 41 years old, grew up in New Jersey and joined the Knights of Columbus in 1991 as a freshman at Georgetown University. He served as the college council’s church director, deputy grand knight, and for two years as grand knight. Working closely with the council’s two chaplains, he saw for the first time the full life of a priest, and the seed of a vocation was planted. After graduation, he worked for an international accounting firm for one year in Warsaw, Poland, before going on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, where he heard a strong call to discern a priestly vocation. He entered the Dominican order in 1996, was ordained in 2003 and received a licentiate in sacred theology the following year from the Dominican House of Studies.
Over the years, he served as chaplain of the two councils he helped to found on campuses where he served in campus ministry: Quinnipiac University and Dartmouth College, and he also helped to start the council George Washington University when he was seminarian in Washington, D.C.
In a recent interview, Father Kalisch outlined plans for his new position.
You have been involved as a leader in four local councils. How does it feel to take on this new challenge at the Supreme Council?
Father Kalisch: There is for me an incredible sense of joy and hope for what we as chaplains on the state and local levels can do for the Order and for the lives of our brother Knights. When I was campus minister at Quinnipiac University, I lived at St. Mary’s in New Haven and first got a personal sense of the life and vision of Father McGivney. Sometimes I would celebrate the daily 7:30 a.m. Mass, which is offered for all deceased Knights and their families, and of course the remains of Father McGivney are interred in the church. Now that I am returning to New Haven, I have a strong sense of following in the footsteps of Father McGivney, working at the Supreme Council in the Order that he founded. He knew the men and the families of his times and responded to their needs and challenges, and it is humbling to think that we chaplains have the opportunity to continue that legacy of serving the Catholic men and their families in our own times.
Q: Is there a unique Knights’ spirituality?
Father Kalisch: I think the genius of Father McGivney is that he understood that men find their spirituality mainly through activity, so he formed the Knights on the active principles of charity and unity which leads to fraternity. Men bond best when they work for a common cause, so there is always a strong service element in the Order, what we recognize as a charity that evangelizes. As we work to build communion, we know that the ultimate communion is found around the Eucharistic table. So I would say that the foundation of a Knights of Columbus spirituality is the Eucharist. Then, along with that, we have the Order’s fervent and filial devotion to the Blessed Mother, as seen in the many Marian Prayer Programs that have been held over the years, knowing that Mary always leads us to her Son. As Knights, our faith and spirituality are never simply individualistic. We are men of the Church, men of fraternity, men of families and communities. We are called to a spirituality of leadership and service that is proper to our state in life.
Q: What message you would like to send the chaplains of the Order?
Father Kalisch: First I want to say that I am here to serve both my fellow chaplains and my brother Knights. Most of all, I welcome feedback and input from chaplains so that together we can continue to build the role of the chaplain and develop his service within the councils. I have been praying for a deeper understanding of what Pope Francis has said about going out to people on the periphery of the Church, of the community, of the culture, and I think the Knights offer all of us an opportunity to put that vision into practice. If I have anything to say to my fellow chaplains it would be to make sure that they engage their brother Knights and help bring them closer to the heart of the Church, where they can thrive and serve, where they can become truly free, men of faith and a source of grace for others. We have before us a great opportunity to touch the lives of so many Catholic men and their families; we simply need to reach out through the Knights to make a good Catholic better or bring a wandering Catholic back to the fold. As we build the spiritual foundation of every council, of every Knight, I think we will see the positive effect in our parishes, in the Church and beyond into our communities and the culture as a whole. It’s quite exciting, and humbling, to think about the work that God can do through our chaplains.