February 2006 - Volume 10, Issue 7
A Sound Purchase
It is rare that I write a column asking you to purchase a specific item, but this edition of Soundings will be an exception. I am hoping I can persuade you to buy a book and, more importantly, to read it.
The book in question is entitled Parish Priest and was written by the eminent historian Douglas Brinkley together with Julie Fenster.
As many of you will recall, Professor Brinkley is the author of many widely selling books such as The Boys of Pointe du Hoc, Tour of Duty, Wheels for the World, and a biography of Rosa Parks. Julie Fenster's articles frequently appear in American Heritage and other quality publications. She is also the editor of the Forbes Collection Presidential Series. Together, these best-selling authors have produced a compact and readable biography of Father Michael J. McGivney (right), the Connecticut priest who founded the Knights of Columbus.
In addition to its splendid authorship, I have several other reasons for warmly recommending this book: please read on!
First, it is the well-told story of a Connecticut parish priest who appears to be well on his way to sainthood. Father McGivney was born in 1852, the son of Irish immigrants. He came of age during the Civil War and knew firsthand the poverty, grinding labor, and prejudice that was the common experience of many 19th-century Irish immigrants trying to make a new life for themselves in the United States. In telling Father McGivney's story, Brinkley and Fenster open up that world to us and remind us of the adverse conditions which those families faced.
As Michael McGivney grew to manhood, he was no stranger to the grueling workplace conditions experienced daily by his own family and his contemporaries. Prior to entering the seminary, he worked in a mill in Waterbury where he came to know firsthand the plight of workers. As a young Catholic, he was also aware of the uneasy position of the Church in the wake of the Know-Nothing Party's attacks against Catholics, and the continued bias under which his fellow Catholics lived and worked, day in and day out.
It was in this context that the future Father McGivney heard the call to priesthood. As a priest, Father McGivney would become a very special friend to the voiceless.
Second, this is a story of a truly good and generous parish priest re-told in an era when we all need to defend and affirm the priesthood and those who serve us as priests. Although parish life has changed dramatically since the late 19th-century, Father McGivney's priestly dedication is timeless. Pope John Paul II said of him, "Father McGivney's vision remains as relevant as ever in the changed conditions of today's Church and society."
As you read about his endless round of parish duties at Saint Mary's in New Haven, you will be reminded of your own parish priests whose responsibilities and demands are also diverse and never-ending. And we who are priests will find in this biography an example of a fellow priest who attained great holiness in a life that was packed with pastoral activity and burdened with administrative duties. It is also the story of a priest who "read the signs of his times" and responded with great love to immigrant families. His pastoral outreach has much to say to us in this corner of Connecticut where Mass is celebrated weekly in 14 languages and where immigrants from Mexico, Central America, Haiti, Poland, Nigeria, and many other places continue to arrive.
Third, Parish Priest is a story of leadership. It doesn't include explicit lessons in management like Larry Bossidy's Execution, or life-changing techniques for success like Jim Steffen's Aligned Thinking. What you find in Parish Priest is the story of a young priest who was a natural (and supernatural) leader. Father McGivney knew how to inspire those he served and he knew how to enable them to focus their energy and resources, while becoming friends and disciples of the Lord and of one another in the process. You will find in his story a stirring example of courage and persistence in the face of obstacles. He coupled that not only with a willingness to ask the opinions and assistance of others but also with a degree of personal organization and focus necessary for success.
Finally, as most of you know, I serve as the Supreme Chaplain of the Knights of Columbus. In that role, I have come to appreciate even more this global organization of 1.7 million members in the United States, Canada, Mexico, Central America, the Philippines, and, in the very near future, Poland. If you read Parish Priest, you will discover how Father McGivney and a few men in the church basement of Saint Mary Parish in New Haven started this amazing organization. Instead of merely talking about the plight of the families he served, Father McGivney did something about it. He tapped into the best of fraternal organizations already in existence in figuring out how to provide much-needed insurance benefits to families often bereft by the premature death of husbands and fathers who worked in dangerous industrial situations. With a genius sprung from holiness, Father McGivney combined that service with a setting in which men could grow in faith and become involved in the life of the Church.
Today the Knights of Columbus continue to provide insurance benefits to its members combined with family spirituality. Its lay leadership, headed by Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson, witnesses to the faith in a way that is both prophetic and profound. Knights and their families are given many opportunities to respond to the call to holiness and embrace the vocation of marriage and family life. Knights and their families support priests and promote vocations to priesthood and consecrated life. They are also staunch defenders of the dignity of human life at all its stages. And the Knights do an amazing amount of charitable work in the United States and beyond. Long before the Second Vatican Council, Father McGivney provided a wonderful model of how clergy and laity can and should cooperate in advancing the mission of the Church. It is a model that is still working today in an organization that is rapidly growing in many places.
As of this writing, Parish Priest ranked fifteenth in the New York Times nonfiction best-seller list. This little book, like its determined subject, deserves to rise to the top!
I hope you enjoy reading this biography as much as I have. And if you order it online at the Knights of Columbus website (www.kofc.org, which will link you directly to Amazon.com), not only will you receive a discount, but you will also be making a donation to the Knights of Columbus vocations program.
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