A message from Fr. Chad Wilhelm

Fr. Chad Wilhelm
Special to Devils Lake Daily Journal

This last Friday the 13th of August we celebrated a devout Christian of the USA.   Michael McGivney died 130 years ago. Ordained a Catholic priest just 12 years after the Civil War ended, the humble parish priest ministered in an era before telephones and electric light bulbs.

In the 21st century, Michael McGivney’s life still speaks to the roughly two million men worldwide who are members of the Knights of Columbus, the fraternal order of Catholic men that he founded in 1882 in the basement of St. Mary’s Church in New Haven, Connecticut.

Fr. Wilhelm

Father McGivney, in the holiness of his life, has important lessons to teach the faithful in a time of division and polarization, in and outside the Church. I hope his example and elevation to the ranks of the blessed can remind all about the universal call to holiness and help spark a spiritual renewal.

In recognizing the holiness of Father Michael McGivney, there are timely signs of God’s providential care that can speak to us in a personal way especially at this moment in our history.  Father McGivney did not see his ministry as limited to parish registration rolls. He visited people in jails and hospitals, and fostered respectful relationships with other Christian communities and civil authorities.  This religious leader was a bridge-builder who shunned walls that so many build if you do not belong to their group!

Born in 1852, Michael McGivney was the oldest of 13 children whose working-class parents were Irish immigrants in Waterbury, Connecticut. He began seminary studies in 1868, but returned home to help raise his siblings after their father died in June 1873. He later resumed his studies and was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Hartford in 1877.

Appointed an associate priest of St. Mary’s Church, where he would serve until 1884, and later as pastor of St. Thomas Church in Thomaston, Connecticut, Father McGivney ministered primarily to an Irish-American and immigrant community in a time of deep anti-Catholic bigotry.

It is remarkable to me that even in the 19th century, in which Father McGivney lived, so many of the basic human sufferings and the challenges that we have are the same. Just as in our day, many people are poor and suffering. The needs of the 19th century share many of the same spiritual needs and common challenges that we experience in trying to lead a holy life today.

When you have someone locally who walked our streets and towns, and who lived a life of charity, faith and hope to such a degree, that is certainly an inspiration to all of us to strive for holiness.

On March 29, 1882, the 29-year-old Father McGivney and two dozen leading Catholic men founded the Knights of Columbus to provide spiritual support for Catholic men and financial resources for families that suffered the loss of their breadwinner.

He founded the Knights in his 20s as a parochial vicar to meet the needs of his flock. We need similar pastoral creativity between priests, pastors and lay people to meet the challenges of 2021 and beyond. 

Fr. McGivney’s beatification is more than a celebration of a spiritual father, who has left such an important legacy, but it’s also a call to conversion for all of us to take Christ’s call to faith, charity, unity and fraternity as seriously as Father McGivney and the first 24 Knights with him did.

Father McGivney is the third U.S.-born priest to be beatified, after Blesseds Stanley Rother and Solanus Casey, both of whom were beatified in 2017. The miracle that paved the way for Father McGivney’s beatification involved the healing of Michael Schachle, a Tennessee boy, now 5 years old, from a fatal case of fetal hydrops in utero.

Daniel Schachle, the boy’s father who attended the beatification Mass with young Michael and most of his siblings, told reporters that he hopes people following the beatification will take away “the really deep pro-life message here, especially in this time in our culture.”

Schachle, who is himself a fourth-degree Knight of Columbus and a past grand knight of his local council, also said he hoped that Father McGivney’s beatification would strengthen Catholic men in their masculinity.

“Men need to have that masculine call, to step up, to be the good fathers, good husbands and protectors that we’re supposed to be,” Schachle said. “Part of the problem we see in our society is because men aren’t doing what they’re supposed to be doing in their families and their communities.

“I think that’s what inspired Father McGivney to inspire men to step up,” Schachle said.

In Blessed Michael we are reminded that life is not transactional, but a gift to be shared. We appreciate that true worship, right fasting, should be centered on a right relationship with God and others, particularly those on the margins of society. Christian unity is more than a simple adherence to a common belief. God calls each one of us in our own day, and our own way, to be vessels of mercy, and so enter into our heavenly inheritance.

Fr. Chad Wilhelm is the local Pastor of St. Joseph, located on 4th street NE in Devils Lake