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Bishop Emeritus Loverde dedicates a new statue of Knights of Columbus founder Blessed Michael J. McGivney

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One year after his beatification on the path to sainthood, Blessed Michael J. McGivney’s likeness is a new source of faith and inspiration for Catholics at Our Lady of Hope Church in Potomac Falls. 

Bishop Emeritus Paul S. Loverde blessed and dedicated a new statue of Father McGivney Nov. 7 on a bright autumn afternoon in the parish prayer garden where it was installed recently. The fiberglass likeness, custom made by an Italian-trained artist in Guatemala and given a shiny, copper finish, depicts the priest accompanied on either side by a young schoolboy and schoolgirl holding a book. It was commissioned by Council 12791 of the Knights of Columbus, the Catholic fraternal organization founded by Father McGivney in 1882.

“May this statue of Blessed Father Michael McGivney remind each one who sees it and prays before it of how he or she has before them a model for imitating, someone to intercede for that person,” said Bishop Emeritus Paul S. Loverde.

“May this statue of Blessed Father Michael McGivney remind each one who sees it and prays before it of how he or she has before them a model for imitating, someone to intercede for that person,” said Bishop Loverde. “Dear Blessed Father Michael McGivney, pray for us now and always.”

A parish priest in Connecticut, Father McGivney founded the Knights at a time when the faithful faced poverty, rampant anti-Catholicism and an increased likelihood of an early death, according to the organization's website. In a letter to fellow diocesan priests, he wrote that the Knights would both deter people from joining secret societies that led people away from the church, and “unite the men of our Faith” and “thereby gain strength to aid each other in time of sickness; to provide for decent burial; and to render pecuniary assistance to the families of deceased members.”

Father McGivney himself faced many health challenges and died Aug. 14, 1890, at age 38 following bouts with tuberculosis and severe pneumonia, amid what some historians consider to be the first modern flu pandemic. In May 2020, Pope Francis recognized a miracle attributed to the intercession of Father McGivney and his beatification Mass was celebrated Oct. 31, 2020, in Hartford, Conn.

Despite the venerated priest’s frail appearance, Father Anthony J. Killian, pastor of Our Lady of Hope, noted that his words and actions demonstrated “that he had a fire inside that was very, very engaging, especially to young adults.” 

“Father McGivney had a very sensitive heart for families, for young adults and for children,” said Father Killian. “Such that anybody who met Father McGivney was attracted to him and recognized that they truly had a friend in Father McGivney.”

Parish Grand Knight Jay Tippett thanked Bishop Loverde, Father Killian and his fellow Knights for their support of the project, especially previous Grand Knights Andy Altman and Joe Hunter, whose “planning and perseverance brought their vision from sketches on paper and napkins at meetings to what you see here today.” 

“The legacy of Father McGivney is found in the countless smiles of children receiving winter coats, the bags of food delivered to families in need and unborn lives saved through ultrasound initiations,” Tippett said.

Bishop Loverde established Our Lady of Hope in 2000 as the 66th parish in the Arlington diocese and appointed Father William P. Saunders as its founding pastor, who served for approximately 20 years. As both a Knight himself and the state chaplain for the Knights’ Virginia State Council, Bishop Loverde was an ideal choice to keynote the dedication, organizers said.

“He’s always been involved with the Knights and I know how much he thinks of Father McGivney, who holds a special place in his heart,” Tippett said.

The open space between the church and the parish school always was envisioned by Father Saunders as a prayer garden, according to Tippett. Over time, more devotional spaces and statues were added, including the Holy Family, the Crucifixion, and Our Lady of Guadalupe and St. Juan Diego. When it came time to place the statue of Father McGivney and the children, the pastor and Knights found the perfect spot: directly across from the school, where the Knights hope it can be a source of inspiration for students.

Following the dedication, Altman pointed out to his fellow Knights the statue’s finer points, such as the Hello Kitty keychain placed on the girl’s backpack by the artist as a contemporary touch, and that its concrete base spans 40 inches underground and 32 more above the grass. A plaque will be installed soon — a removable one that can be updated upon Father McGivney’s anticipated canonization.

For some of the Knights, the COVID-19 pandemic was an added source of inspiration for the project, along with Father McGivney’s beatification.

“I thought we needed to do something to honor Father McGivney,” Hunter said. “I thought we (also) had to do something because it would spur people and take them out of the depression that they are in.”

“This is momentous,” he said, to honor “what a few motivated men and a strong Catholic priest did from the basement of St. Mary Church in Connecticut to set the world on fire.”

Schweers can be reached at editorial@catholicherald.com.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2021