St. Mary’s Seminary & University in Baltimore launched a virtual discussion series in honor of the beatification of an alumnus — Blessed Michael McGivney, a member of the class of 1877 and founder of the Knights of Columbus.
“The McGivney Series” began Nov. 12 with the segment “Who Was Michael McGivney and What Does He Have to Say to Us Today?” It will explore the essential qualifications and qualities of effective priestly ministry in the 21st century.
This first segment was a livestreamed conversation between Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, the Knights’ supreme chaplain, and Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson, the CEO of the Knights. The moderator was Sulpician Father Phillip J. Brown, who is president-rector of St. Mary’s Seminary & University.
This first conversation, Brown said, sheds light on Blessed McGivney’s ministry, what really motivated him, and how that exemplifies the ideals of priestly formation that prepared him to go forth and do that work.
Speaking on the eve of the Oct. 31 beatification, Brown noted that now-Blessed McGivney had written many times about how much he owed to the Sulpicians, as the members of the Society of Priests of St. Sulpice are known. The order operates St. Mary’s. McGivney credited the Sulpicians’ ideals of priestly formation and described how at St. Mary’s he fell in love with the idea of being a parish priest.
“Of course he went on to be an outstanding parish priest and to really demonstrate the ideals of formation that have always been the heart of formation at St. Mary’s,” Brown said in an interview with The Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, West Virginia.
St. Mary’s and the Sulpician tradition have always been focused on forming priests for a ministry in parishes, not for any other ecclesiastical offices, but rather good pastors who are in there with the flock, Brown said.
He drew on the words of Pope Francis in talking about these pastors as having “the smell of the sheep” and really coming to love parish service to the faithful.
“And, of course Michael McGivney really exemplified that service in his life,” Brown said. “We’re anxious to hold him up as an ideal of what we still try to do at St. Mary’s. We would like to be known as sort of the cradle of pastors. … We see our mission as providing the people of God with the kind of priests, the kind of pastors they deserve.”
The second and third segments of the series are in the planning stages. Brown sees the second segment delving into the seminary and how men are prepared to be pastors and to be priests.
“We are the only religious community in the church, as a pontifical institute, that is solely dedicated to seminary formation of diocesan priests,” Brown said the Sulpicians. “So the priests who are members of the society, like myself, like a religious order make a commitment to do seminary formation for life. And we’ve been doing that since 1641, when our society was founded.”
He added, “We’ve spent a lot of time reflecting upon what makes for good formation for solid, holy, healthy, happy, and effective priests and pastors.”
A seminary, he said, can seem like a mysterious place, and he would like to demystify formation as his part in the series as rector and president of St. Mary’s.
Brown said he hopes that people will ultimately learn more about Blessed McGivney through the series, and the “outstanding” parish priest that he was — often, in a very quiet way.” He made a big difference in people’s lives, Brown said, and showed what it means to be a good parish priest.
“I would like to give people much hope that we continue to aspire to those same ideals, and that we’re doing that,” Brown said. “We have been through a rough period in the church. So I think we need to hold up the great priests who have been there in the past and really give people well-founded hope that we’re going to provide many more great priests for the future.”
Brown said the beatification of Blessed McGivney is a wonderful day for St. Mary’s and more so for the church as he epitomized the priesthood.
“Michael McGivney was a great priest and we need a symbol and a model of the best of the priesthood today,” Brown said, “and I think this is an opportunity to really begin to focus our attention away from the 2 to 4 percent of priests who have not been good priests to the 96 percent of priests who are working hard every day to serve the people of God.”
Rowan is executive editor of The Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston.