Updated: Oct 13, 2020
As we all prepare for the upcoming beatification of Ven. Fr. Michael McGivney, I wish to reflect in this letter upon one aspect of his life that I suspect we often mention but rarely reflect upon deeply: he found his holiness in his priestly ministry. Indeed, the most well-known biography of Fr. McGivney goes by the simple title Parish Priest. While he is, perhaps, most famous and well-known because he was the founder of the Knights of Columbus, it was in the heroic virtue of his life amidst the everyday responsibilities of his parish priesthood that was the foundation of his holiness. Father McGivney was a tireless and devoted priest. He poured himself into duties: celebrating Mass, hearing confessions, administering last rites to the dying, baptizing babies, giving wise counsel to those who came to him for help. He sought to build up family life, and took a very special care in ministering to widows and orphans, earning him the title “father to the fatherless.” He visited those in prison. He visited parishioners in their homes, especially when someone was ill and needed the anointing of the sick. (Indeed, it was during a pandemic that Fr. McGivney fell ill with the sickness that would eventually take his life at the young age of 38.) Eyewitness accounts of his last Mass at St. Mary’s and the “goodbye party” thrown for him by the parishioners recounts how nearly all were weeping at his departure even grown men! All of the local city papers carried the news, and lamented the great loss to New Haven that it was to see Fr. McGivney be assigned by the bishop elsewhere. He was beloved by the people not because he was the most brilliant priest they had ever met, or the most talented, or anything like that. He was beloved by the people because the people could sense how deeply Fr. McGivney loved them. It was a love borne from his “priestly heart,” which was patterned after the love of Jesus Christ, the great High Priest and the Good Shepherd. We need this example so desperately in our time. Most of the time when there is mention of the Catholic priesthood in the newspapers nowadays it is, sadly, for all the wrong reasons. The wicked actions of so many priests over the last decades has driven many Catholics away from the practice of their faith and (rightly) has been a source of scandal to those both inside and outside the Church. If there was ever a moment in history where the Church in the USA desperately needed the example of a holy priest, a saintly priest, to put before the eyes of the world, it is today! And God, in His provident goodness, has provided this very thing. As your pastor, please take these last weeks of preparation for Fr. McGivney’s beatification as a special time to pray for your priests. Pray for your pastor and all of us who serve here at St. Mary’s. (Speaking for myself, being here in the parish where Fr. McGivney ministered and pondering his example, I am inspired and encouraged on one hand… but also very aware of how far from imitating his example I still am.) Pray for other priests who have influenced your life in a positive way in the past. Pray for all of those who currently are living the vocation to priesthood in this archdiocese, in our Dominican province, and everywhere. And pray that this moment in history, when all eyes are fixed on Fr. McGivney, the Lord might pour out a special vocational grace on many of the young men of our parish and beyond, hearing the call to follow in the steps of Fr. McGivney and become priests. The world desperately needs saints right now. But even more, it needs priest saints. Maybe one of those future priest saints is someone you know. Encourage him to listen to the Lord’s voice, and to follow without hesitation wherever He leads.
Venerable Father Michael J. McGivney, pray for us!
Fr. John Paul