Ahead of beatification, priests reflect on McGivney's priesthood, and the miracle he prayed for

Ahead of beatification, priests reflect on McGivney's priesthood, and the miracle he prayed for

Fr. Michael McGivney. Credit: John Tierney/Father McGivney Guild
Fr. Michael McGivney. Credit: John Tierney/Father McGivney Guild

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A prayer vigil for priests on the eve of the beatification of Ven. Michael McGivney took place Friday, October 30, at St. Mary's Church in New Haven, the parish where McGivney served as a priest and founded the Knights of Columbus in 1882.

The vigil featured reflections from the father of a boy whose miraculous healing has been attributed to McGivney’s prayers.

The prayer vigil was structured around three lessons: Fr. McGivney as a parish priest of action and courage; Fr. McGivney as a model of co-responsible leadership; and Fr. McGivney’s intercession. Each lesson featured a Bible reading, a story about McGivney’s ministry that related to the theme of the lesson, and a reflection.  

The first lesson included a passage of McGivney’s remarks from a Mass he celebrated for a condemned prisoner, Chip Smith. Smith had been sentenced to death for murdering a police police chief while in a drunken state, and McGivney met him while ministering to prisoners at the jail in New Haven. McGivney became Smith’s spiritual director, and was with him on the day of his execution.

McGivney’s prison ministry was just one of the ministries he undertook as a diocesan priest, said Msgr. Joseph Donnelly. Donnelly provided the reflection for the first lesson.

The life of a diocesan priest “is characterized largely by activity for the sake of the Kingdom of God in which God’s presence is undeniably real,” said Donnelly.

“It draws us to prayer. It calls us to conversion of heart. It strengthens us in holiness,” he said. “Moreover, it strengthens our experience of the bond we share with God and with those we are called to serve.”

“We belong to them, they belong to us, and together we belong to God,” he said. He asked the priests present if this sentiment sounded familiar, and asked if “our diocesan brother,” McGivney, would agree.

“As I have read and reflected upon the story of his very active life and pastoral ministry, I recognize in Father Michael McGivney’s experience as a parish priest a familiar kinship in serving this diocesan Church,” said Donnelly. He said in particular, two examples from McGivney’s life stood out as examples of how he lived out his vocation as a diocesan priest: the founding of the Knights of Columbus, and his dedication to Smith’s pastoral needs in prison.

The Knights of Columbus was founded as a fraternal and charitable organization initially to assist widows and orphans, many of whom were in McGivney’s own flock.

“Prayerful compassion was at the root of his pastoral response to organize a means of offering much needed support to such families in his parish and beyond,” said Donnelly. “With his
vision, skills, energy, and prayer he led the first Knights to establish this global fraternal service order.”

McGivney visited Smith in prison for over a year, and during that time Smith returned to the practice of the Catholic faith.

“As his trial and various legal procedures continued, his conversations with Father McGivney touched something deep in both of them,” said Donnelly. “They both appear to have been profoundly affected by their time together.”

“Who of us has not had similar pastoral relationships that had similar effect on us while at the same time offering us a deeper and richer insight into the meaning of our vocation as diocesan priests,” asked Donnelly. “It strikes me that Father McGivney poured out his life for those he served.”

Fr. Gabriel O’Donnell, O.P., spoke about McGivney’s charity, noting that the priest cared for others with “unusual intensity and unstinting self-sacrifice.”

“The climactic expression of his priestly charity was the founding of the Knights of Columbus, a fraternal benevolent society entirely based on the virtue of charity,” said O’Donnell. “Charity among the members, brother to brother; charity within the Church in collaboration with the priest; finally, an unbounded charity towards all those in need, regardless of race or creed.”

O’Donnell said McGivney collaborated with lay Catholics in order to tackle the issues facing the Church at that time.

“This spirit of cooperation and a certain sense of equality between priest and layman must be considered a unique aspect of McGivney’s spirituality,” he said. “ He spoke of his fellow Knights as ‘friends’ and had an ability to treat them as such without diminishing the ‘apartness’ of his priestly consecration and identity.”

McGivney’s spirituality, said O’Donnell, was centered on “a reverence for the human person; the dignity of work; and the sacredness of marriage and family.”

Priests today can look to McGivney for an example of how to persevere through difficulty and a culture that is hostile to the Church, said O’Donnell. Now, more than ever, priests “need one another for encouragement and strength to cling to the high ideal of holiness in the midst of real life that so inspired Father McGivney.”

“As inheritors of McGivney’s wisdom we must never forget our need to collaborate with the lay faithful,” said O’Donnell. “They have much to teach us as they look to us for strong spiritual leadership.”

The third lesson of the night was unlike the others, as it featured not an excerpt from McGivney’s life on earth, but a testimony of his intercession from heaven.

Daniel Schachle, the father of Michael McGivney Schacle, discussed the miraculous intervention of McGivney in saving his unborn son in utero from a fatal condition.

When his wife Michelle found out that her 13th child not only had Down syndrome, but fetal hydrops--an uncommon, typically fatal condition where fluid builds up around the vital organs of an unborn child--she and her husband appealed to Fr. Michael McGivney for his prayers. 

The unborn Schachle was given “no hope” for survival due to the combination of fetal hydrops and Down syndrome, and the Schachles were told that continuing the pregnancy could harm Michelle. Out of desperation, and what Daniel described as his “agony in the garden” moment, the Schachles decided to ask their friends to pray for the intercession of McGivney.

In the meantime, Daniel explained, the family had won a trip through the Knights of Columbus to go to Fatima. While they did not tell many people on the trip about their need for a miracle, they continued to pray for McGivney’s intercession. Michelle had a sonogram done before leaving for Europe, which showed fetal hydrops.

After returning from Europe, Michelle had another ultrasound--this time, showing no fetal hydrops. The doctor who read the ultrasound, who was not Michelle’s regular doctor, was unaware that Michelle had previously been told her unborn child had “no hope,” and outlined the medical team that would assist with the birth.

“Michelle told her we were changing the name to Michael McGivney and why,” said Daniel. “The doctor was so happy as her dad was a knight.”

After extensive medical examination, the unexplained healing of Michael was decreed a miracle that arose through the intercession of Fr. McGivney. Pope Francis gave final approval to McGivney’s first miracle in May.

Schachle said his family was “humbled by this extra grace from heaven,” and how God is now using his son’s story to bless the Church with the beatification of McGivney. 

“Reverend Fathers, Our Founder is proof that one good priest can make a difference for the whole world,” said Schacle. “Thank you for being willing to follow in his footsteps. And like the lay men with whom he founded the Knights, count on my support and that of all the Knights, to continue to bring the Gospel of Jesus Christ to a much-loved, but broken world.”

Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, reflecting on Schachle’s testimony, described McGivney as someone whose priestly ministry has a “surprisingly contemporary cast.”

“For that reason, we who are diocesan bishops and priests, as well as those who trying to live the Christian life and the ideals of the Knights of Columbus, can rightly claim Fr. McGivney as the parish priest of our souls,” said Lori.

“We can do so because he lived a life not unlike our own, but he also did so with extraordinary holiness, the kind of heroic virtue and holiness that lies within our reach.”

McGivney is set to be beatified on Saturday, in Hartford, and will be known as “Blessed Michael McGivney.” Beatification is the step before sainthood.

Tags: Priesthood, Catholic News, Father McGivney, Fr. Michael McGivney

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