My bride and I met while working at Wall Drug, on the edge of the Badlands in South Dakota. I was selling boots and moccasins that summer; she was selling hats and western wear. The day she started at the store, I had been working about a week. Her supervisor had gone to Mass (“On a weekday?” I thought.) and asked me to keep an eye on things and show the new girl how to run the register when she arrived.
So I did. It wasn’t long before I wanted to spend all my time with her, even accompanying her to Mass, which I hadn’t gone to in years—and when I went back to Yale in the fall, I missed her.
I had a job for the School of Music’s Concert Office that took me all over campus and several classes at the far end of Hillhouse Avenue, so multiple times a week (sometimes several times a day), I walked past St. Mary’s on Hillhouse (good photos). Sometimes I would see sandaled and habited Dominicans greeting students as we passed by, and I loved the tall stone steeples, which, unlike the numeorus other gothic structures on campus, announced the presence of the divine. When the I finally (inevitably) decided to go to church and pray for (at least daydream about) the girl I hoped to marry, those gray steeples and thick wooden doors were the ones that welcomed me home, if only as a heathen dabbler at the time.
Many years later, having married Jodi in the Catholic Church, then returning the faith myself, getting confirmed and moving here, I met a older man on a Christ Renews His Parish (CRHP, pronounced chirp, not the other way) retreat. Gordy was a charmer—you couldn’t help but like him—and he happened to be the perennial top recruiter of new members from the local Knights of Columbus (KC) council. I knew almost nothing about the Knights at the time, except that they had a office of some sort among the shops that backed up to St. Mary’s in New Haven—I remembered seeing the name and logo. (It struck me as interesting because at Yale, like so many institutions of higher learning, the name Columbus is cursed and spat upon.)
It helped Gordy’s cause tremendously that I was his CRHP brother and not at all opposed to joining. Nevertheless, he was dogged in his pursuit of me, and when finally we sat down across the table from each other to discuss membership, his approach was direct: He slid an application and a pen over to me and sat in silence, smiling.
“Uh,” I said. “Okay, Gordy, so tell me about the Knights.”
He continued to smile. “I will. You go ahead and get started.”*
I learned the basics about the KCs that night: Catholic men’s fraternal organization; does a lot of worthwhile community service; meets once a month; offers insurance to its members. “It’s a great group of guys,” Gordy assured me. “And you can be as involved as you want…but you’ll get out of it what you put it into it.”
I got involved right away—Gordy saw to that—and for several years, the KCs were my primary way of serving the Church. I met a number of solid, Catholic men who were seeking sainthood for their families and brought in a few new Knights myself. As an organziation, the local council didn’t limit itself to bread-and-butter KC activities like Tootsie Roll drives and essay contests. Blessed with a gaming license that provided a steady source of income and many talented members, we helped to build a local crisis pregnancy center and a beautiful new rectory for our priests. We are also the largest provided of local scholarships to graduating St. Michael-Albertville seniors each year.
Long story short: Gordy was right; it is a great organization and council.
Gordy also told me that the founder of the Knights, Fr, Michael McGivney, was a venerable in the Church and would someday, God willing, be a saint. Some time later, another friend recommended to me a biography about Fr. McGivney, Parish Priest: Fr. Michael McGiveny and American Catholicism. Lo and behold, Fr. McGivney’s parish was St. Mary’s in New Haven, where I began drifting back to the faith!
For more on the book and McGivney, see the link above—if you want to read it, I’d be happy to lend it to you. The reason this comes back up now is that earlier today I ran across this article announcing that Fr. McGivney is to become a blessed. Pope Francis has approved a miracle attributed to the priest’s intercession—the in utero healing of an unborn child with a life-threatening condition, whose parents prayed to Fr. McGivney—the final step needed to be eligible for beatification.
What can we learn from venerable Fr. McGivney that will serve us today? The values he espoused and embued in the Knights of Columbus—unity and charity—have never been needed more than today. McGivney sought to create ways for the faithful—especially Catholic men—to support each other and grow in faith in the face of religious and ethnic persecution, poor economic conditions, illness and death. Indeed, today’s article suggests that it may have been the coronavirus of his day that took Fr. McGivney’s life at the age of 38.
Gordy passed away in March of 2016. I was blessed to pray with him before he died, and I believe Fr. McGivney prayed for him too. God willing, they are celebrating the news together in heaven today, and praying for unity and charity to sustain us here.
Knights of Columbus Council 4174
*Those may not have been his exact words, but you get the idea.