Parish Priest
Douglas Brinkley & Julie Fenster
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Buy *Parish Priest: Father Michael McGivney & American Catholicism* by Douglas Brinkley & Julie Fenster online

Parish Priest: Father Michael McGivney & American Catholicism
Douglas Brinkley & Julie Fenster
William Morrow
256 pages
January 2006
rated 4 of 5 possible stars
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The Knights of Columbus has evolved into one of the largest charitable organizations in the Roman Catholic Church, helping to raise money for handicapped organizations and to create and support college scholarships. They also help to support the Pope’s charitable activities and other needs of the Church, such as the cleaning and restoration of the St. Peter’s Basilica and St. John Lateran façades in Rome. They help other churches, too, and aid their members through insurance policies. The Knights of Columbus are a large and active group of supporters of pro-life activities.

In 1997, the process for the canonization of Fr. Michael McGivney, the founder of the Knights of Columbus, was initiated by the Archbishop of Hartford, Connecticut, Daniel A. Cronin. Fr. Gabriel O’Donnell is the archdiocesan postulator, or advocate, for McGivney’s cause. In 2000, he compiled a 700-page document on McGivney and presented it to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. They appointed a Vatican postulator to look into Fr. McGivney’s cause, which will need one miracle for him to be declared blessed and another miracle to advance his cause to canonization and being declared a saint. According to this book, no miracle has been credited to him yet.

Brinkley and Fenster’s book is not part of the official document of the cause for canonization for Fr. McGivney, although it can help with thatby popularizing McGivney in parts of the world where he is unknown. Most people not connected with the Knights of Columbus may know no more than that he founded the group. But he had a life before he founded the Knights;his book tells that story, and of his life after the founding.

The book starts somewhat oddly with the story of the Downes family and the history of Irish Catholics in New Haven, Connecticut. The Catholic Church was small and poor in this New England city, and the story of the Downeses is similar to McGivney’s and other Irish living at that time. Poverty and early death were common occurrences and what prompted McGivney to found the Knights of Columbus - to help provide life insurance and other aid to those in need. This new organization did not have the support of all of the clergy in Connecticut or of other places. Once it received the support of the Bishop of Hartford, however, the group could recruit more members.

Fr. McGivney did not keep letters or other mementos. Much of this book is based on others’ letters and histories of the time period. Brinkley and Fenster relate how intelligent McGivney was, excelling in school and in seminary. Had he lived longer, he may have become a bishop, but his death at 38 was not unusual for Catholic clergy of the day; many clergy and religious were overworked and didn’t take the time to care for themselves. They usually died, as they say, “with their boots on,” and often from diseases they caught when they were ministering to the sick and dying. They spent themselves for Christ.

Concerned about the needs of young adults and children, Fr. McGivney organized activities such as plays and baseball games to keep (especially) young men from drinking and getting into trouble. He tried to help others when they were in need, like acting as a guardian for Alfred Downes and ministering to a convicted killer.

Brinkley and Fenster’s popular biography of Fr. Michael McGivney also provides an early history of the Knights of Columbus. Those interested or curious about the Knights will enjoy this book. It also opens a window onto the history of the Catholic Church in New Haven, Connecticut.

Douglas Brinkley is a professor of history at Tulane University. He is the author of the forthcoming book McCarthyism in America (Feb. 2007), Boys of Pointe du Hoc (2006), The Great Deluge (2006), The World War II Memorial (2006), Rosa Parks (2005), Tour of Duty: John Kerry and the Vietnam War (2004), Wheels for the World (2004), World War II Desk Reference (2004), New York Public Library American History Desk Reference (2003) and other books and articles. Julie M. Fenster is the editor of the Forbes Collection Presidential Book Series. She is the author of Race of the Century (2006), Mavericks, Miracles, Medicine (2004), Open Road’s Boston Guide (1997), and of other articles.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Br. Benet Exton, O.S.B., 2006

Also by Douglas Brinkley: The Boys of Pointe du Hoc: Ronald Reagan, D-Day, and the U.S. Army 2nd Ranger Battalion

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