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Posted March 20, 2006

Book: Parish Priest: Father Michael McGivney and American Catholicism
Authors: Douglas Brinkley, Julie Fenster
William Morrow, New York, 2006, pp. 240

An Excerpt from the Jacket:

Is now the time for an American parish priest to be declared a Catholic saint?

In Father Michael McGivney (1852-1890), born and raised in a Connecticut factory town, the modern ear’s ideal of the priesthood hit its zenith. The sone of Irish immigrants, he was a man to whom “family values” represented more than mere rhetoric. And he left a legacy of hope still celebrated around the world.

In the late 1800s, discrimination against American Catholics was widespread. Many Catholics struggled to find work and ended up infernolike mills. An injury or death of the wage earner would leave a family penniless. The grim threat of chronic homelessness and even starvation could fast become realities. Called to action in 1882 by his sympathy for these suffering people, Father McGivney founded the Knights of Columbus, an organization that has helped to save countless families from the indignity of destitution. From its uncertain beginnings, when Father McGivney was the only person willing to work toward its success, it has grown to an international membership of 1.7 million men.

At heart, though, Father McGivney was never anything more than an American parish priest, and nothing less than that, either – beloved by children, trusted by young adults, and regarded as a “positive saint” by the elderly in his New Haven parish.

In an incredible work of academic research, Douglas Brinkley and Julie M. Fenster re-create the life of Father McGivney, a fiercely dynamic yet tenderhearted man. Though he was only thirty-eight when died, Father McGivney has never been forgotten. He remains a true “people priest,” a genuinely holy man – and perhaps the most beloved parish priest in U.S. history. Moving and inspirational, Parish Priest chronicles the process of canonization that may well make Father McGivney the first American-born parish priest to be declared a saint by the Vatican.

An Excerpt from the Book:

According to the minutes of the meeting, “it was moved, seconded and carried that the society be known as the ‘Connecticut Knights of Columbus.’

That brought the committee directly to the next order of business: “On motion it was voted taht we make it a ritualistic society.”

Michael McGivney was interested least of all in the ritual aspect of the society – the hierarchy of degrees, the design of regalia, the choreography of ceremonies — but it was a necessary component of a fraternal group, according to the others. James Mullen volunteered to work out the detail of the degrees, along with the ceremonies and passwords to be used. Without compelling ceremonies, the members would not feel that it was a special privilege to be a Knight of Columbus, and so Father McGivney cooperated with the formation of the secret aspects of the new society. Later, once Mullen and the others had worked out such details, from the leader’s title of “Supreme Knight” down through the symbolism of the rites, Father McGivney expressed his opinion that “the titles etc. it is true are a little high-strung.” However, he was adamant on the point that the Knights operate entirely in line with the Church, although officially separate from it. “Father McGivney advised that all the ritual and secret work be laid before the Bishop of the Diocese, Bishop Lawrence S. McMahon,” Geary and Driscoll wrote.

Losing no time, the fledgling Knights called a general meeting for Monday, February 6, at St. Mary’s. In starting out that day, Father McGivney had to push through more than a foot of fresh snow left by the winter skies – and by the people who were supposed to shovel the walks. The meeting took up some of his thoughts, but not all of them. It wasn’t even the most important event of his day. There was a baptism for a baby named Carol Cullen, and then there was the hearing to determine the guardianship status of Alfred Downes. Father McGivney had arranged that he would stand as principal for the young man, by means of a probate bond. Because of his intervention, the Downeses remained together as a family. He had become familiar with such processes in his research on behalf of the new benevolent society. McGivney was quite a different man than he had been upon graduating from seminary. He knew how to work the law, he understood business principles, and he had begun to learn the nuances of publicity. In his view, being a priest did not keep him from playing a part in the wider world; to the contrary, in dire cases such as the one before him in probate court, it compelled him to do so.

Table of Contents:

Preface: The Same Manner to All Human Souls

1. A friend of the family
2. An American child
3. The priesthood
4. A start in seminary
5. In the city of New Haven
6. In charge
7. A church fair
8. Modern man
9. McGivney’s solution
10. A bleak night in Ansonia
11. Inertial in a hurry
12. Faith in Meriden
13. A stern voice
14. Talk of the town
15. A priest’s life