Renovation of historic church gives visitors a feel for what it was like when Knights of Columbus founder lived there.
After a basketball-sized chunk of plaster came crashing down in the front of St. Mary’s Church in New Haven, Connecticut, early in 2019, the parish called in engineers to take a closer look at the 145-year-old Gothic church. While the structural and architectural state of St. Mary’s were found to be sound, the plaster lining the interior walls and ceiling was determined to be “aged out” and unstable.Thus began a months-long renovation to stabilize the plaster, a project that was completed in time for this summer’s Knights of Columbus Supreme Convention.
St. Mary’s is the church where Fr. Michael J. McGivney founded the Knights in 1882 and the place where he is interred. The church, near Yale University, will be the focal point of a weekend-long celebration beginning Friday, as Fr. McGivney will be beatified, a major step on his way to being proclaimed a saint.
The beatification ceremony will take place in St. Joseph’s Cathedral in Hartford, Connecticut, Saturday, October 31, but St. Mary’s will host a number of events on Friday, Saturday and Sunday in what it is being billed as the St. Mary’s McGivney Festival. Visitors will see a church that is much the same as it was when Fr. McGivney was an assistant pastor there from 1878-1884. And that is thanks in part to the falling plaster and the subsequent renovation.
While the plaster walls were being stabilized, the John Canning liturgical art firm of Cheshire, Connecticut, in anticipation of repainting, removed layers of paint in various parts of the interior. They discovered geometrical designs that had probably been visible in Fr. McGivney’s day. The firm also looked at the earliest photographs available and checked written descriptions in contemporary newspaper articles. Working with the pastor, Dominican Fr. John Paul Walker, the parish and the Knights, they came up with an overall design plan.
Within these walls, parishioners and interested visitors will be able to pray and listen to presentations about the life and significance of Fr. McGivney, beginning with a Priests’ Prayer Vigil, Friday, October 30, at 7 p.m. That is a recognition of the fact that McGivney was a parish priest known for his pastoral zeal and personal holiness. All-night adoration of the Blessed Sacrament will follow.
The beatification itself will take place at 11 a.m. on Saturday, presided by Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark, N.J. Attendance is by invitation only due to the coronavirus pandemic, but the Mass will be shown on large-screen TVs at St. Mary’s.
Pilgrims can take part in the weekend’s activities via livestreaming on kofc.org, including by submitting prayer intentions that will be brought to the tomb of Fr. McGivney, where a volunteer will offer the prayer. Prayer intentions may be submitted directly on the KofC.org/Beatification website or by using #FrMcGivney on social media.
A panel discussion will take place Saturday afternoon with Dominican Fr. Peter John Cameron, who wrote a play about Fr. McGivney, and Kathryn Jean Lopez of the National Review Institute.
Also on Saturday, Vespers will be held at 5:30 p.m., an outdoor candlelight procession at 6:30, and the Schachle family of Tennessee will speak at 7:30 about the miracle recognized as coming through Father McGivney’s intercession. It involved their son, Mikey, five, who in 2015 was healed in utero of a life-threatening condition after prayers by his family to Fr. McGivney.
A young adult prayer vigil, including adoration, praise and worship with readings and reflections on McGivney’s writings will conclude at 11:30 p.m. with a candlelight Mass.
The McGivney Festival will conclude on Sunday with a Mass celebrated by Baltimore Archbishop William Lori, supreme chaplain of the Knights of Columbus, to give thanks for the beatification.
Said Fr. Walker, “We want to share the joy of Fr. McGivney’s beatification with this community so closely associated with his ministry.”