Bishop O'Connell stands by the newly blessed portrait of Blessed Michael McGivney that is hanging near the sanctuary of St. Robert Bellarmine Co-Cathedral, Freehold.  The painting was the work of Sulpician Father Peter Gray.
Bishop O'Connell stands by the newly blessed portrait of Blessed Michael McGivney that is hanging near the sanctuary of St. Robert Bellarmine Co-Cathedral, Freehold. The painting was the work of Sulpician Father Peter Gray.
The life of Blessed Michael J. McGivney, founder of the Knights of Columbus, is a classic Catholic and American story.

Those were the words Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., used to remind the assembled Knights of Columbus about the good works of a humble priest now one step closer to sainthood.

Photo Gallery: Mass to commemorate beatification of Father McGivney

“The poor in spirit, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness … if these were the criteria on a job description, McGivney was certainly well-qualified,” Bishop O’Connell said during the Mass of Thanksgiving he celebrated Nov. 14 in St. Robert Bellarmine Co-Cathedral, Freehold. “Michael J. McGivney not only got the job, he lived it and reminded his fellow Catholics to do the same.

The Mass commemorated the Oct. 31 beatification of Blessed Michael McGivney and provided an opportunity to pay tribute to the Knights who serve in parishes throughout the Diocese and beyond. Bishop O’Connell also formally blessed a portrait he had commissioned of Blessed McGivney, which was painted by artist and Sulpician Father Peter Gray.

“Father McGivney began organizing men of the region into a Catholic fraternal organization that would become the Knights of Columbus, with mutual fraternal support, caring for poor widows and families, promoting the Catholic faith and charity as their defining purposes. He saw his Knights, as Isaiah proclaimed, ‘like a watered garden, like a spring whose water never fails,’” Bishop O’Connell said.

Brian Barrett, the Knights of Columbus Freehold Council 1672’s Grand Knight, called Father McGivney’s beatification “an inspiration.”

“To have an American parish priest beatified is special; to have that priest be the founder of the Knights of Columbus is extraordinary. Father McGivney sought to engage the laity. With over two million Knights worldwide, it would appear he did his job. In a way ...  we carry on the work he began almost 140 years ago.

The Freehold Council counts among its members parishioners of both St. Rose of Lima Parish and the Co-Cathedral.

During the Mass, Bishop O’Connell addressed the Knights. “I am so grateful to you for all that you do and all that you are,” he said to the Knights, some 11,700 of whom call the Diocese of Trenton home.

Because of COVID-19 restrictions, only 200 Knights and their guests attended the Mass, which was also livestreamed across all diocesan media platforms.

The Bishop noted that in the Gospel reading for the Mass of Thanksgiving taken from Matthew, Jesus lays forth the “blueprint or mission statement for the Christian life” – something, he pointed out, that defined the life of Blessed Michael McGivney.

“As he finishes his teaching, in the last beatitude, Jesus offers the motivation for the ‘way of life’ he teaches,” the Bishop explained. “If you do all these things, if you live this way ‘because of me, rejoice, for your reward will be great in heaven.’ The Lord Jesus identifies his teaching with his very self as its inspiration. That is the ‘truth’ the teacher presents, the key to ‘beatitude.’ That is what makes one ‘blessed.

Upon blessing the portrait, which depicts the Connecticut-born priest who died during a pandemic at age 38, Bishop O’Connell shared a video message from Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson, who was unable to attend the Mass due to coronavirus travel restrictions. Anderson shared that Father McGivney’s beatification “should give heart and hope to every Knight and every Catholic. His legacy has been a blessing to millions, his holy life an example to millions more.”  

Anderson noted that Father Gray’s painting of Father McGivney differs from most others he has seen with the young priest wearing simple garb. Rather, the gold-framed painting hanging near the sanctuary in the Co-Cathedral depicts Father McGivney vested to celebrate the holy sacrifice of the Mass.  

“I hope all of us strive to follow in the footsteps of blessed Michael McGivney,” Anderson said, “in our journey toward holiness [and] in our lives devoted to charity, unity and fraternity.” 

Edward Michalak, president of the Knights’ Trenton Federation and a member of Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish, Moorestown, was among those in attendance. Of the event, he said, “I wanted to share with my brother Knights this special day. This is the culmination of all we do as Knights, both spiritually and physically, and a chance to bond with the community.” 

Snapping pictures of the commissioned painting, Knight Tom O’Connor said, “This is a beautiful portrait, and it is important to honor Father McGivney as founder of the Knights of Columbus and all he has done.” 

Barrett reflected upon the impact the painting of Father McGivney might have on visitors to the Co-Cathedral, saying, “Perhaps the portrait will draw more attention to the Knights and increase our members. With more members, we can do more good work.” 

Contributing Editor EmmaLee Italia and Managing Editor Jennifer Mauro contributed to this report.